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Steven Reece We are a leading Consultancy to kids entertainment brands including TV, toys & games. Our services include cutting edge qualitative consumer insight and consulting with entertainment brands to maximise their merchandising potential.

The Perpetual Cycle of Toy Consumer Generations

Posted in Uncategorized on 04 September 2012

Today is a bittersweet day for me. My youngest child started school for the first time. I’ll spare you the parental anguish and nostalgia, but it reinforced an age old maxim about the Toy industry – our consumer groups perpetually renew and refresh themselves by default.

Today one of our household moved from ‘Preschool’ to just straight ‘Kids’. So farewell Fisher Price, hello everything else that comes next!

Children naturally aspire and look up to older kids. So a child who last school year was surrounded by 3 or 4 year olds had younger influences versus the same child today who has just begun to be influenced by children as much as 6 or 7 years older. While we haven’t started clearing out all the old Toys, inevitably new Toys will now start to slowly fill up the space until we have to take such steps.

This cycle is a massive advantage as well as a challenge for the Toy industry, because when Brand sales are dipping and it seems like yesterday’s hero is today’s nobody in terms of retail sell through, a completely new generation starts to come up. And even if things falter so badly that the Brand in question needs to take a break, two or three years should be enough to completely replace the relevant consumer segment.

The challenge of course is that of always recruiting the next generation, a challenge many address by TV advertising. Normally it isn’t even necessary to create a new TVC, although the agency will always insist it’s critical to start again!

So here’s the thing, we always get another opportunity, but we can never take consumer adoption for granted…

Hope this article was helpful?

If you want more along these lines, I have a Free guide on Top Toy mistakes which you can download from here:

http://www.toymarketingacademy.com/toptoycompanymistakes/

All the best

Steve

 

 

 

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Getting New Toy Concepts To Market – 5 Tried and Tested Methods

Posted in Uncategorized on 30 August 2012

How can you get your Toy product to market?

This is one of the questions I am asked most often, so thought I’d write a post to summarise how you can approach this.

The following list is in risk order i.e. highest risk first:

1. Manufacture your own product and sell direct to retail yourself. In the end, this one will give you most control (as well as most stress!), and effectively starts you down the path of running a toy business.  It’s also the one which has the biggest payday at the end normally, as long as you can actually get some sales, stay solvent and stay sane to that big payday! The challenge is the risk factor, because once you manufacture that stock it’s all yours until you persuade some other kind soul to take it off your hands!

2. Manufacture your own product and sell it direct from the factory gates to retailers or distributors. (Known as selling FOB, meaning Free On Board). This method reduces your stock risk (although be wary, it’s not fool proof), because the buyer takes the full order quantity direct from the factory and ships it back home, stores it and deals with any over stocks. Clearly they will expect a discount for taking this risk, so in the end, if you have, learn or buy in the ability to manage stock, this may become a superfluous option.

3. Create and engineer a product, and hand it over to someone else to manufacture and take the risk on. This is normally very profitable, as long as you haven’t invested too much in tooling etc.  It also removes you from the day to day grind of dealing with orders, customers, stock issues and much else.  However, it is less likely to catapult you into the big time, and it’s often just as difficult to persuade a distributor or publisher to run your line as it is to persuade a retailer.

4. Concept Licensing route –  licensing concepts to publishers is a proven business model. In essence, this path allows you to focus on the fun stuff – coming up with ideas and trying to sell them on. In reality though, most companies are more likely to run with a product which is factory ready, so option 3 is something to work towards.

That’s just a quick summary to answer the most common question I am asked by those who are less established or newer to this industry.

Now the second question I often get is things seem to be taking forever, we don’t seem to have had much progress, what should we do? Which is an understandable question really. The challenge is that this industry (in most markets) has an annual selling cycle building towards a peak at the back end of the year (Christmas/Thanksgiving etc). And a year feels like a long time. But the reality is that one year is just a single selling cycle. If you can’t wait 3 selling cycles i.e. 3 years for any sniff of success, you are probably not going to make it…

I would say that is the biggest barrier to entry in this game…you can invoice finance and all sorts of other fun (or not) things to get around financing challenges, but the reality is, even with a great concept or product, it just takes time!

Hope this article was helpful?

If you want more along these lines, I have a Free guide on Top Toy mistakes which you can download from here:

http://www.toymarketingacademy.com/toptoycompanymistakes/ 

 

All the best

Steve

 

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The Eternal Appeal Of Power Rangers…5 Compelling Features

Posted in Uncategorized on 19 August 2012

Power Rangers – A Trip Down Memory Lane…

I just got back from a big family vacation trip (with 14 of us) to Norfolk (UK). Aside from the usual holiday fun, there was one notable feature of my trip…Power Rangers!

My Brother in law had rented a chalet with a fantastic selection of retro board games, books and VHS videos (remember those…the forward and rewind features are still very annoying, how did we ever put up with that for so long!!!).

Anyway, the most majestic discovery was 14 Power Rangers videos from around 1994. Rather than join the sophisticated adult fun, I found myself on a big couch with lots of kids, watching open jawed as episode after episode ‘wowed’ me and the kids. Sure the special effects now look almost comical, and the whole effect is much less slick than we would expect today…but there is sheer magic in the formula. And above all, my cynical eye may have identified those shortcomings while still being marvelously entertained, but the kids saw only compelling and immersive entertainment.

So why was it so entertaining, and perhaps more importantly, why has this franchise (despite any recent bumps) been one of the biggest perennial Toy brands of the last 20 years?

Here’s my 5 compelling features:

1.  Let’s cut the PC nonsense, kids love play fighting! You can call it nature, you can call it nurture, but the reality is kids love play fighting, especially boys. So an entertainment property where the heroes and heroines fight (without hurting any real people, we wouldn’t to alienate mom and dad now would we!?) is on the right tracks!

2. Good versus bad – let’s keep this short, because both you & I know it’s true…kids love the simplicity of goodies versus baddies.

3. Fantasy monsters – kids love rough and tough ‘baddie’ monsters. The bigger and badder the better!

4. A character for everyone – so rather than having just one heroic character to choose from, with one set of likeable or unlikeable characteristics, kids can take their pick. My daughter chose to aspire to the pink Power Ranger in the series we were watching, nephews liked one or other of the male characters, and so by creating a team of aspirational good characters, the franchise recruits a greater proportion of kids. Brilliant!

5. Humour – kids have highly developed senses of humour. Slapstick and juvenile gags work great for them. The light relief in between fight sequences truly lightened the mood, and stopped the kids from taking things too seriously…because let’s face it getting attacked by monsters could be frightening, but not if they are funny, and there is humour liberally interspersed with the action.

So there you go, that sure made for a fun vacation for me, and reminded me of why Power Rangers has been around for so long!

All the best

Steve

P.S. If you want more Toy insight, fell free to sign up for my newsletter by adding your details in the form to the right of this post, and you also get a Free guide at the same time.

 

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The Big Play Day – A Big Success!

Posted in Uncategorized on 19 August 2012

The Big Play Day – report

So firstly, apologies for the ‘radio silence’ recently, August is a pretty quiet month in the European toy trade, so I’ve been joining everyone else on vacation…

…however, I did manage to organise and run my inaugral ‘The Big Play Day’ event. Toy companies with turnover in excess of $300m came along to test their existing products and new concepts with Kids.

Every toy consumer research I’ve conducted or viewed has yielded significant insight. This was no exception. Sometimes it’s a stunning revelation, more often it’s small tweaks that can make a huge difference to the product formula.

Special thanks to my friends at Toy News – the UK’s leading toy trade magazine – for sponsoring the event. If you’re one of the very few people in the industry not reading Toy News, then you can check it out here:  http://www.toynews-online.biz/

If you’d like to find out how consumer insight on toys can help your business, please feel free to drop me a line: steve.reece@vicientertainment.co.uk

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The Big Play Day – New Event, Weds. Aug 15th, Guildford, U.K.

Posted in Uncategorized on 31 July 2012

The Big Play Day

It’s time to announce a really exciting event that I’ve been working on for some time!

The Big Play Day brings together Toy companies with their end consumers – Kids!

The purpose of the day is to allow companies to get some ‘quick and dirty’ budget level consumer insight on their products which will:

  • Highlight key areas for product development tweaks.
  • Identify key selling features.
  • Unveil key communications messages for advertising.
  • Give feedback on how kids play.
  • Give a comparative reference versus competitor products.

Without wishing to over blow my own trumpet (!), I have two market research qualifications, including the Market Research Society Certificate (with Distinction), as well as having worked as Hasbro’s In house play tester some years back. And I’ll be there on the day to support attendees, as well as supplying a question template for those who haven’t done much consumer research before.

Now obviously this version of the The Big Play Day is in the UK, but for companies in North American, mainland Europe, or even anywhere else, you can still submit your products for testing…just get in touch for details of how we manage that. We will also be conducting The Big Play Day in the USA later this year, so watch this space for that…!

Anyway, if this all sounds interesting, check out this page for more details and to buy tickets:

http://www.eventbrite.com/event/3620244248c

P.S. We have a limited number of spaces, so if this is of interest, please book asap to avoid disappointment.

 

All the best

Steve

 

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Lego Friends – Generalisations Are Generally True…!

Posted in Uncategorized on 31 July 2012

Lego Friends Flying Off Shelves Causing Stock Shortages

I predicted earlier this year that the Lego Friends range, which very clearly targets Girls, would be a rip roaring success.

And lo and behold the range has sold so well in the UK that out of stocks have become a “high class problem” according to Lego UK M.D. Drew Brazer. For more details on this check out this article in Toy News: http://www.toynews-online.biz/news/36822/Lego-working-hard-to-meet-demand-for-Friends-toy-line 

So here’s the blunt truth – this product was always going to fly because Boys Toys and Girls Toys are as relevant today as distinctions as they ever have been. I’m not talking in terms of social niceties, the evolution of gender roles in society, equality or anything else like that. I am talking hard commerce, because that’s what pays the bills and wages of the people  who work in our industry.

The thing about generalisations is that they are generally true! Generally, but not exclusively speaking, pink appeals to girls not boys. Nurturing play patterns are more appealing to girls than boys in general, and girls are significantly less interested and less keen on boisterous or even violent play as a general rule.

For sure you could go and find kids who buck the stereotypes…we all know one. And I could write an academic thesis on WHY this is the case…but the reality is that it IS incontestably the case regardless of whether it’s caused by nature v nurture, societal stereotypes or anything else.

In this instance, Lego have again smashed the ball out of the park through fantastic portfolio gap analysis and Brand management. And you can be sure that if we have a successful Lego Friends in market today, we can expect further girl targeted Lego iterations in the next year or two, as well as sub-extensions of the Lego Friends Brand itself.

Nothing about the success of Lego Friends should surprise people who understand how kids see the world and how they play. Is this something you understand well enough to be successful?

I recently conducted several different market research projects, and each and every time the feedback from the vast majority of kids reinforced the standard gender stereotypes…

Anyway, I must move on from Lego loving, so my next few posts won’t mention them…unless they smash the ball out of the park yet again in the meantime!

All the best

Steve

P.S. I’m running an event called The Big Play Day on Weds. August 15th in Guildford, U.K. The Big Play Day brings brands and Toy people face to face with their end consumer to reduce launch failure risk and make products that better fulfil the needs and wants of Kids. For more details just click on the following link, spaces are limited so book early to avoid disappointment!

http://www.eventbrite.com/event/3620244248

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5 Reasons Why Online Virtual Worlds Are The Future Of Toys

Posted in Uncategorized on 27 July 2012

Kids Online Worlds And The Toy Industry

There is no escaping the paradigm shifting impact of kids online virtual worlds such as Moshi Monsters, Club Penguin and many others. We have moved from a model of TV advertising, TV programming, Movie events and to a lesser extent book publishing, to all of those PLUS child centric website Brands.

Here’s 5 Reasons why online virtual worlds are a big part of the way forward for toy companies:

1. Deeply immersive -  Let’s face it, TV programs and movies are passive viewing experiences. The child sits there, albeit often fully mentally engaged, and passively receives. With online worlds, Kids are deeply immersed and actively engaged, meaning a greater bond and deeper experience linked to the Brand in question.

2. Revenue generating – show me a Toy company making big bucks out of selling TV programing alone or selling Movie rights alone, and I’ll show you my most sceptical eyebrow raised expression! Most are investing at a loss to make profit on Toy sales. Whereas with online worlds, the medium itself is both effectively marketing and Brand building, while generating revenue.

3. Repeat usage – where there is a truly engaging, enjoyable and immersive experience,  kids will keep on coming back and sometimes spend hours online…compare that to a one off 90 minutes for a movie, or a daily 25 mins with TV.

4. Merchandising path now proven – some years back, while we knew millions of kids were online, we didn’t have undeniable proof that their online experience translated clearly into merchandising sales. Moshi Monsters smashed any uncertainty there out of the park!

5. For every Moshi Monsters or Club Penguin there are 10 up and comers out there planting seeds – like all success stories, there are plenty of up and comers lining up to be the next Moshi. I’m working with one Brand which I believe will be the next…but more on that in later posts! The reality is, that Moshi & Club Penguin are not one offs. This is a new Kids Brand paradigm which isn’t going away – so ignore it at your peril!

If you want to understand more about virtual worlds and the Toy business, or if you’re seeking strong Licenses based on online Kids Brands, feel free to get in touch – steve.reece@vicientertainment.co.uk

All the best

Steve

 

P.S. For a Free guide on Toy marketing and  newsletter subscriptions, just enter your details in the form on the top right of this page.

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Why Kids And Adults Love Lego So Much…

Posted in Uncategorized on 18 July 2012

The Lego Brand – Personal To Everyone?

When I conduct consumer research sessions, and ask kids and parents which Toys are their favourite, which ones they own, and which ones they want, it is stunning how often Lego is the answer to all 3 of those questions. None of which is that surprising I know, but the interesting part of what consumers tell me is that Lego is ‘perfect’ for them (each of them), despite the fact that normally you wouldn’t see such a diverse array of kids playing with the same Toys.

So what’s the trick then? In a word – stunning brand and portfolio management. The Lego brand is that rarity which has an incredibly strong identity while also allowing for a broad and deep brand stretch. There are very few other brands out there in the Toy industry with this ability to appeal to all kinds of different kids. Barbie for example is about as large, established and well managed Brand as you will find, yet it’s consumer target is narrower than Lego i.e. not many boys owning Barbie comparatively speaking.

Lego’s master brand is the platform on which they build and add on other affinities and target consumer sub groups. For instance, I had a consumer say to me that he loved Lego Ninjago because it was “just like Pokemon and Ben 10″. Lego Star Wars appeals to other kids, the apparently controversial Lego Friends clearly appeals to girls, Duplo for younger etc.

To see more on how Lego segment, this link goes to a very good visual communication of how broad their consumer segmentations go:

http://www.lego.com/en-us/products/default.aspx

The other massive strength Lego has from a brand and consumer point of view is parental approval, endorsement and even evangelism. Parents love Lego…because they perceive it as delivering a worthwhile play experience for their kids, and an aid to the development of their offspring. Parents who may not consider Star Wars figures, for instance, may well consider the Lego Star Wars range.

The other strong influencing factor here is heritage. I’ve written extensively on this elsewhere, as have nearly every other Toy industry blogger, but in terms of Lego, parents played with Lego as kids, and know and trust the brand. Moreover, they may have had arguments with their parents way back, when Lego’s use of Licensing and sub-branding wasn’t as prevalent, and see the current plethora of versions and co-brands as a great solution to buying kids ‘worthwhile’ Toys.

This isn’t the only article I’ve written on Lego, but there’s a reason for that – if you want a textbook example of magnificent Toy brand management on an existing brand then Lego is it…

All the best

Steve

 

P.S. To receive a Free Guide, and sign up for other Toy industry updates/analysis, please feel free to sign up using the box on the right hand side of this page.

 

 

 

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Q2 2012 Toy Company Results Pending…

Posted in Uncategorized on 15 July 2012

Mattel Q2 2012 Results. Hasbro Q2 2012 Results. Jakks Pacific Q2 2012 Results.

Mattel and Jakks Pacific are due to report their Q2 results on Tuesday, with Hasbro to follow the week after.

And frankly, I can’t remember a more potentially interesting round of corporate results.

Jakks Pacific will be revealing, among other things,  how Monsuno is going so far…Monsuno is a critical Strategic play for them, so Jakks watchers will await these results and the accompanying commentary with baited breath.

Hasbro’s Q2 results and earnings call are going to be very interesting due to the postponement of the G.I. Joe movie sequel from Q2 2012 into 2013. Presumably all the inventory will sit on Hasbro’s books and in their warehouses until the movie finally screens, which is not going to help their ratios! The analysts out there are no doubt going to have some searching questions to ask about all that, and of course it will be interesting to see what level of success Hasbro expect from the relaunch of a new higher tech App-ified Furby.

For Mattel, we should start to see significant impact from the HIT Entertainment acquisition, as well as a justification by management of why they are reportedly/allegedly looking to divest some of the smaller HIT Brands so soon after buying the portfolio.

So this is going to be an interesting week and a half for sure!

The other thing I noticed today when on one of my regular trawls of Toy retail today is just how much is going on in terms of Toy product this year. Although our industry is rarely quiet, the sheer volume and scale of product launches and product initiatives seems to be even greater than usual this year.

So while the overall market figures may still be heavily dragged by the prevailing economic winds, on a product level this is a very exciting time.

The next 2 months will see the hopes and goals of some Toy companies become solid realities, while others will fall by the wayside.

All this excitement certainly makes me glad to be in this crazy business!

 

All the best

Steve

 

P.S. For updates & insight on the Toy industry, and to get a Free Guide on how to avoid most common Toy industry mistakes, please click here:

http://toymarketingacademy.com/toptoycompanymistakes/ 

 

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Reece Rant – What’s Going On With Board Games Packaging…?

Posted in Uncategorized on 13 July 2012

Let’s keep the fun in Board Games packaging!

This Blog has a little publicised secret –  the ethos of this Blog is to ONLY positively comment on the industry. Even when looking at an issue or situation that seems less than ideal, the informal rule is not to write about something unless a positive slant can be found. If it’s all bad, then it doesn’t tend to feature here…

Here’s the thing though, every so often something really makes me cross, and not just cross angry, but cross and worried, because something happens which in my opinion is not for the good of the industry as a whole.

So I’ve decided to let rip with a rant this time. if this wasn’t what you expected (or wanted) from me, apologies, but I feel I just can’t let this one slide!

What has happened to board games packaging in the last few years? Board games have such a positive impact on kids, families and society as a whole…but that’s not the only reason they are played with. They are also (supposed to be) FUN.

For sure the Games category has been under immense threat from other forms of Gaming and gadgetry, but that isn’t a new trend, it’s been going on for 30 years or more.

The point is this – just because other forms of activity are ‘cooler’ or more aspirational/desirable, and just because the reason for people playing board games are often ‘worthy’ doesn’t mean people will buy Games which look dull.

Yet from a subjective point of view, Board Games packaging has got more and more serious and not FUN over the last decade or so, and that applies to the best selling board games as well as the lesser titles. And I just don’t understand why that is the case, or where it’s coming from.

My golden rule with packaging is that it doesn’t matter whether I ‘like it’, or whether ‘that colour doesn’t work for me’. The pack is a sales tool. It needs to communicate the right things to effectively sell the product – to make retailers list it, and make consumers take it off the shelves and buy it with their hard earned cash. So (as any Designer who ever worked with me will testify), I am very poorly placed to comment on design trends and aesthetics in general. However, if it doesn’t look FUN why will anyone buy it / play it?

I guess there may be a small sub section of the population out there who actually want to be miserable, and who want to play Games which make them more miserable, but surely they are a miniscule minority?

Why then are so many Games packs nowadays so boring and formal? When I see a board games pack that looks more like the front cover of a brochure for an accountants or a dentists, it  really frustrates me. I’m sure there are highly talented designers working on these games, but the direction so often seems wrong to me.

In fairness, Kids Games very definitely do focus on the fun, but just seems like Family and Adult Games are almost made to seem turgid in many instances nowadays.

The softening of sales in the Board Games category that we’ve seen in the last few years is I’m sure partly due to the global downturn, partly due to some key retailers going out of business and partly due to the lack of a major global gameshow hit, which has always been a major driver for the category historically. I’m also sure that App-ification has taken a piece of the action.

However, I can’t help wondering whether the results would have been any different if the packaging design style had been different, and focused on FUN.

There you go rant over, at which point I must insert the caveat that there are some Games and some companies out there getting this right, just not enough of them!

If you think I’m barking up the wrong tree, think I have it spot on, or think you can explain this better, please feel free to leave a comment below.

All the best

Steve

P.S.  Quick plug for my book – 55 Features To Top Selling Board Games, available via my webshop: www.stevenreece.com/shop or if you have a Kindle, you can get it here:

http://www.amazon.com/Mammons-Guide-Board-Games-ebook/dp/B007PJTZN2/ref=nosim?tag=wwwvicientert-20