NEW YORK, NY; FEBRUARY 18, 2019—If it’s all about the elevator pitch, these three new products from three first-time exhibitors explain themselves instantly. As do licensed applications. All exemplify classic play value, each with a neat twist. Check them out in person before you leave Toy Fair, or online.
#1. The Door Fort, from Cortex Toys (booth #4245). Inventor Jesse Darr loved building forts as a kid — and now that he has his own child, remembers how his parents would be left with putting everything away once he went to bed. The Door Fort is his answer. Hangs on the door. Open the door, fold it out to three dimensions, Velcro to the door post. Voila!
One major license is already in the works. Easy to picture Darr’s generic Princess Castle as, say a Disney Princess castle, no? How about Thomas? Pretty much name your property. Contact: John Cowan, MD, CEO/Founder, Cortex.
#2. Cubcoats (booth #5974). It takes 13 seconds to demonstrate how a plush character pillow transforms into a machine-washable fleece hoodie — and back again (OK, back takes 16 seconds).
In addition to original designs, they have Mickey, Minnie, Minion, Marvel, and Troll versions, and they’ve just signed Nickelodeon. The product was exclusive to Nordstrom for fourth-quarter last year, but is now available for wider retail. This is beautifully executed. Contact: Brydie O’Neill, VP Product Development; Angela Michael, Business Development/Sales.
#3. VertiPlay Marble Run by Oribel (booth #4135). Yes, it’s another marble run, but with a literal twist: Base boards are wall-mounted and tracks posted on the base pieces. It’s even decorative, and the tracks can be moved into different designs. This is so new it’s not on the website yet, but Singapore-based Oribel has offered other vertically-mounted toys for toddlers for several years. This is clearly for older kids in a bedroom or playroom. Contact: Smriti Modi, Growth Hacker (great title!).
There were quite a few new character properties exhibited at Licensing Expo in Las Vegas early in June. And while the drumbeat in recent years has been how difficult it is for anything new to penetrate the market — in particular to get on the shelf at retail — a number of attendees commented to me this year that there was a sense that “the market is more secure, and therefore more open to considering something new.”
Most attention, of course, focuses on “new” from Disney/Marvel/Star Wars, Nickelodeon, Warner, Turner, spinoffs, reboots, and so on. But here are some notes on two of the odder newbies, a new digital hit (Bethany Mota; more on digital properties in an upcoming post), collaborations, distribution strategies, and more.
Will the newbies be back next year? Stay tuned.
Opportunistic Anime. John Prine and the late singer/songwriter extraordinaire Steve Goodman set out to write the perfect country and western song by including every country song cliché they could, including mama, trains, trucks, prison, and being drunk. The result was “You Never Even Call Me By My Name,” which was a country hit for David Allen Coe in 1975. I don’t know if the folks at Genco, part of the Daisuki Anime Consortium Japan, have heard the song or would get the joke (most of the clichés are bunched up in one final verse), but they were at Licensing Expo concept-testing Sushi Ninja, who “fight with evil Monsters for justice every day.” While they fight largely over silly things, there are only three episodes so far. Not sure it’s really for kids, or whether the humor can hold up over a full season, but so far it’s pretty funny in a SpongeBob-by sort of way.
Flush Here. Jim and Dan Chianese are brother podiatrists in Blacksburg, VA, and Charleston, WV, respectively. They are also the inventors, if you will, of Toilet Babies, a line of five (so far) “characters” that reside in Kalimapoo. You probably get the idea already. If not, go to their website. Each character has his own backstory — and yes, they are all male.
The brothers sourced 2000 of each character in China, have interest from a distributor for Japan, thought the line would appeal to 3-8 year-olds but have found the range is more 18-40 (in part, no doubt, because the only way to purchase them is online via credit card or PayPal), and exhibited at Toy Fair West and Licensing Expo in search of unloading the concept (sorry) on licensees. “We’re doctors, and we figured we’d follow the motto we follow in our practices: ‘What you don’t know, ship out.’ That’s where licensing comes in.” Contact: email@example.com.
Learning to Fly on the Fly. When Aeropostale decided to launch an exclusive line around digital celebrity Bethany Mota, it was “two months from agreement to stores,” early in December 2013, in order to make the holidays, says the retailer’s Scott Birnbaum. Aeropostale is making 8-12 deliveries a year on the line, and when Mota makes live appearances (25 “meetups” so far, attracting 2500-3000 each, on average), she has to change outfits several times because the stores sell out instantly of whatever she wears.
Making Lemonade Out of… Animaccord VP of Licensing Vladimir Gorbulya, representing the popular Russian property Masha and the Bear, which launches dubbed in English in the U.S. on Netflix this August, says they “don’t want to crowd the market with episodes.” They have 51 short-form episodes of the core series (it would take three to fill a half-hour U.S. slot on broadcast or cable). There are two spinoffs: Masha’s Tales and Masha’s Scary Tales. The program already has a strong YouTube following in the U.S. European toy chain Hamleys features Masha in a store-in-store concept in Russia; next up will be Italy. (The property does not show up on Hamleys’ English-language website.) Animaccord issues 2-3 stylebooks annually to keep the property fresh.
Sound the Trumpets. Signage at the Fox booth at Licensing Expo heralds Ice Age having amassed $1.4 billion in merchandise sales (cumulatively, worldwide), with 2.5 million books in print. . . .Fox figuratively threw its trademark searchlight on exclusive retail and design collaborations including Simpsons x Joyrich, Simpsons x MAC, Home Alone x Rook, and others in signage adorning the outer walls of its booth. . . .Authentic Brands Group (ABG) hardly needed more than the giant TV over the entrance to its booth, what with a running loop of images featuring properties it owns and represents, including Muhammad Ali, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, and Elvis Presley.
Nice Touch. Kudos to Advanstar for adding a “character parade” the opening day of the show. Several dozen characters wound their way slowly through the aisles, making for plenty of smiles and some neat once-in-a-lifetime photo ops. On their own, The Minions were especially popular at Universal’s booth, while the Teletubbies made an appearance at the LIMA Awards festivities.
Licensed Minions products will be everywhere in advance of the July 2015 release date for the Despicable Me spinoff, right in time for the all-important back-to-school season. The question for licensees and retailers is whether the Frozen short that Disney is releasing in front of Cinderella next month, and the complementary marketing the Disney machine will undertake until the next full-length feature, will keep Frozen dominant right through to the next movie or whether Minions can steal share of market the way Frozen did from Barbie, American Girl, and just about every other doll on the market in 2014.