Don’t toy with us

Today's guest post is co-authored by Peppercommers Sara Whitman Ramos (pictured) and Brendan Mullin.

PhotoPeppercom’s motto has always been to work hard, play hard. So, what better way to live that  motto than to hang out at last week’s Toy Fair? Brendan Mullin and Sara Whitman (that’s us) took on the show, meeting with influencers and manufacturers, and of course stopping a bit to goof around with some of the latest and greatest in playthings.

Organized by the Toy Industry Association, Toy Fair 2011 hosted 300 exhibitors, making this a very good year. Association leadership was quoted as saying, “This kind of positive news reaffirms Toy Fair’s reputation as the epicentre of toy and youth product creativity, originality and excellence in the Western Hemisphere.”

To get some perspective on that, we had the chance to speak with industry veterans, Claire Green and Wendy Smolen, co-founders of The Sandbox Summit. In addition to providing much-needed advice for tackling Toy Fair – Hydrate! Snack! – they also shared their thoughts about the state of Toy Fair, and whether or not the show is living up to its reputation:
What are your thoughts about the quality of exhibitors you saw this year in comparison to previous years?

There was a much more upbeat quality to this year's Toy Fair than in the past two years. The quality of exhibitors was basically the same. You have the classic big guys, the mid-size companies who are always trying to muscle their way in, and the innovative new guys. It's an interesting mix.
 
We agree. Everyone was happy. We weren’t sure if it was the promise of better economic times, the toys or just something in the air. At one point, that “something” in the air was flying marshmallows from The Marshmallow Fun Company.
 
What trends are you seeing that are particularly exciting?  Technology always grabs headline. Here are a few themes:
 
1. This year we saw the reverse trend of apps transforming into product. Classic online games like Angry Birds and Tetris both moved off the screen and onto the table.
 
2. 3-D. Hasbro, Mattel, Spinmaster, and others all brought out products that can be viewed in 3-D.
 
3. iPads/iPods as toys. More and more companies are creating apps to play on the iPad. Discovery Bay introduced Yoomi, using a device that turns an iPad into a game. VTech introduced a kid-friendly alternative to the iPad. Hasbro had My3D, which lets a player play 3-D games on an iphone; Fisher Price introduced a kid-tough case for a parent's iPhone. 
 
4. New technology. We saw a laser printer that colors Barbie's hair (Fisher Price) and a voice-activated car (Bandai).
 
5. Great thinking games. ThinkFun, Gamewright, FatBrain, BriarPatch, WorkForge, Blue Orange all had imaginative, creative ways to play.
 
There’s no doubt that technology and toys will continue merging in fun and unusual ways. One of Sara’s favorites was a ping-pong playing robot from Tosy, a Vietnamese company. B tried to take him on, but the robot was scared silly by his paddle-wielding skills.
 
Anything that toy manufacturers are not addressing effectively or as well as you’d like to see?
We’re always surprised to see traditional packaging geared towards “girls” and “boys.” It’s the 21st century and time to grow beyond the pink and blue.
 
And to close, what catches your eye when you’re walking the floor?
Having been immersed in toys for so many years, what catches our eye is what has not been done before or is now being done in a smarter, more fun way. It's the "slap your forehead" moment. It always makes you smile. And that's really what toys should do.
 
To our ears, sounds like Toy Fair nailed it on all three counts – creativity, originality and excellence.

But, we’d like to hear from Repman readers. Do you think the current state-of-the-art in toys is better than previous generations? Are toys safer?

In the meantime, stay tuned for more from our day of play at Toy Fair 2011…coming soon. Now, give me that toy!

4 thoughts on “Don’t toy with us

  1. Julie, check out some of Hasbro’s newer Mr. Potato Heads. I think they’re missing out by not making a Mr. Pickle Head version from Toy Story 3. But that’s just me.

  2. Thanks for the comment. Gotta love the SNL flashback. I have to say, while we didn’t see any Johnny Switchblades at the show, there were a fair amount of action-packed (read, violent) video games on display. So are there safer toys today? I guess that depends on your definition.

  3. “Yeah, well, look – you know, the average kid, he picks up, you know, broken glass anywhere, you know? The beach, the street, garbage cans, parking lots, all over the place in any big city. We’re just packaging what the kids want! I mean, it’s a creative toy, you know? If you hold this up, you know, you see colors, every color of the rainbow! I mean, it teaches him about light refraction, you know? Prisms, and that stuff! You know what I mean?”
    — Irwin Mainway (Dan Akyroyd) speaking about his “Bag o Glass” product line