“Put the jazz hands down, chuckles”…it’s the Friday Blog!

Published on: 21st July 2017

Some ‘quirky’ news stories which have a toy angle have emerged over the past few days, so this week’s Blog celebrates a few of those weird and wacky stories.

It has emerged that, in future, not only will Wal-Mart be penalising suppliers for delivering late, it will also be punishing them for delivering early. Sending in goods even a single day early will earn you a nice little fine, as will – inevitably – delivering goods that aren’t packaged to Walmart’s liking (“Sorry, you’ve used blue tape on the box and we specifically said that only taupe would be acceptable. That’s a fine!”) The retailer has openly admitted it is aiming to earn $1 billion from this new punitive regime, which will no doubt come in handy when the books are being balanced.

Back in the UK, John Lewis has announced that it will be sending staff from its new Oxford store to theatre school in what has been described as “a bid to boost their confidence.” It has been suggested that newly-acquired vocal techniques and stage presence will impress customers and if the trial is successful, it could be rolled out across the country. Those who have been in the toy trade a few years will remember back to a time when walking round Toy Fair stands meant encountering a procession of ‘resting’ (i.e. out of work) actors, leaping out at you to deliver a product presentation with manic enthusiasm. On the whole, it was ghastly – most buyers I know told the sales person they were pressed for time, so they would say to the actor “just the short version please.” I’m all for the concept of retail theatre, but I feel this could definitely go one of two ways: “Put the jazz hands down chuckles, I’ve just come in for a browse.”

Meanwhile, over in Russia, state TV has warned that the humble fidget spinner could make people susceptible to the messages of the political opposition (and we worry about the standard of journalism dropping at the BBC!). Given their fondness for meddling in international elections, I’m surprised the Russians didn’t offer to send a spinner to every child in America (if I have given any spinner suppliers a good idea, do feel free to pop a cheque in the post).

You couldn’t turn on the news or open a paper at the start of the week without someone frothing at the mouth because the BBC had the temerity to appoint a female actor to be the latest incarnation of The Doctor – lest we forget, a fictional character who travels through time and space in a phone box and regenerates into a completely different person every so often. (“Sure, that’s all fine, happy to apply ‘willing suspension of disbelief’, even when that bloody Sonic Screwdriver does something it has never done before to handily get them out of a perilous situation. But a woman?? Dear God no!”). But what will it all mean for merchandise sales? Will it attract more girls to the franchise? Will boys still buy into it with a female lead character? Will the show itself be a bit more kid-friendly than the last couple of series? Lots to ponder…

Finally, Mothercare came in for a lot of flak on social media after a risky ad campaign backfired. Initially, I had little sympathy: the irate complaints focused on a picture of a girl dressed up as a 1950s housewife, doing the cleaning. It was if someone from the creative team had been watching Queen’s ‘I want to break free’ video while drunk and had a lightbulb moment. On the face of it, it was hard to defend. But, hold fast, all was not what it seemed: the original image actually featured both boys and girls doing the cleaning. I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but people with an agenda to peddle – including our old friends at ‘Let Toys be Toys,’ who were all over it like a rash – had conveniently overlooked the fact that someone had unscrupulously cropped the photo so that only the girls were shown, thus insinuating that Mothercare was being sexist and old-fashioned. The whole fiasco could easily have been avoided if the picture had been shot in such a way that a boy and girl were standing with each other, rather than having two boys in one half of the shot and two girls in the other half. A very small detail, but, as it turned out, a crucial one.

It just goes to show how careful retailers and suppliers have to be to avoid own goals like this: with the Advertising Standards Authority producing a paper on gender stereotyping which mentions toys on several occasions, the last thing we want to be doing is handing them – or indeed anyone – a stick to beat the toy industry with. Let’s not make it easy for them, shall we? And having seen the trouble the BBC got themselves into this week, I just hope that Mothercare at least paid the boys and girls equally…