Start Licensing’s Ian Downes reports back from this week’s Toy Fair and highlights why there was a lot to be pleased about from a licensing point of view.
Mission accomplished. I spent two very enjoyable and successful days at the London Toy Fair this week. A warm round of applause to the organisers and exhibitors – they put on a great show and it was great to see another trade show back on the road.
Toy Fair is a show that resonates with licensing people as there is a significant crossover between the two industries. Rights flow backwards and forwards between the two sectors. A number of licensees from business sectors outside of the toy industry attend Toy Fair as a networking opportunity coupled with some on the ground market research and trend-watching. In general terms, the toy market is still regarding as a guiding light to the licensing market particularly in sectors such as preschool. Companies from sectors like apparel and gifting like to see what licensed brands are being supported by toy companies.
A number of the exhibitors were operating a ‘by appointment only’ system which curtailed some of the traditional impromptu meetings and chats, but overall this didn’t impinge on the effectiveness of the show I think. There seemed to be good attendance by retail buyers and across the two days I was there it seemed that exhibitors were busy. Of course it will be interesting to see what feedback the exhibitors provide.
There was a lot of licensing to catch the eye at the show. Here is my whistlestop Top Ten tour of my show highlights:
It was great to see ToyTopic make its debut at the show. Its licensed offer included a range of Peppa Pig hand puppets. This looks like a strong range and a fun product. Beyond the product, I was pleased to see a new company launch and one that features licensed products in the initial ranges. As I have mentioned before, I think it is essential for the licensing industry’s well-being that new companies get involved in licensing and create new outlets for licensing. In that context, it was great to see ToyTopic launch and early signs are that it had a good show.
At the other end of the scale, it was also good to see that licensing stalwart Rainbow Designs was celebrating its 50th anniversary at the show. Licensing has played a significant part in its success and Rainbow Designs is a great company to point to when looking to show others how licensing works.
A number of exhibitors were promoting ranges based on series that are being broadcast on Netflix. Indeed Clementoni had a whole bay of product displayed under the Netflix banner. I think Netflix will become an increasingly important part of the licensing mix and licensees will see it as a platform that can drive a licensing programme.
I think this will include programming from a range of genres and appealing to different target markets.
There were numerous examples of ranges based on gaming brands and characters. Seemingly brands such as Super Mario are now regarded as classics and evergreens.
A challenge for toy companies will be how they work with gaming companies and their brands to deliver compelling toy products that deliver a play experience that resonates with gaming fans.
Wow Stuff is one example of a toy company that ensures that its innovation pipeline is contemporary and future proofed. It also integrates licensing and licensed content well into its ranges. Of course there are other examples of companies using technology creatively with licensed product. Tonies is a great example of this. Licensing is a big part of its offer.
Another example that stood out for me was one involving our client Aardman. It has worked with Flair to create an Animation Maker kit product that includes Plasticine along with accessories such as a movie backdrop. The kit is designed to work in conjunction with Aardman’s Animator app. This is a great example of a hybrid product that combines very traditional elements with new technology well. It is also a good example of a licence and its associated content being used in an appropriate way.
Flair also featured a really interesting football skills range developed with footballing superstar Lionel Messi. I thought this was a really good example of a well chosen licence helping a company to create a point of difference in a traditional category. I imagine the Messi Football Training system will be seen as a good option for a number of retailers when they are considering football related product.
Click Distribution made a great feature on its stand of the Panini Premier League Football stickers range. A good reminder of the popularity of football, but also the fact that toy retailers can be interested in different types of product to sell alongside traditional toy lines.
I was also pleased to see how well Wilton Bradley presented its Nadiya Hussain Baking Kits on its stand. Using brand personalities in toys and licensing generally can be quite a challenge. But when done well they can be compelling propositions. These two ranges are good examples of what can be achieved was this type of licensing.
It was clear that the world of pop culture and fan merchandise is still a significant feature of the toy market. A leading player in this sector is Funko. It was good to see that its commitment to NPD and creating new product formats is undiminished. It has supplemented the classic Pop! vinyl figures with a range of new formats and collections.
Of course, a running theme for Funko is licensing and its licensing offer encompasses a broad range of genres. Areas like sports, gaming, music, anime and manga seem to perform well, alongside the more traditional TV and film franchises. I think it has also succeeded in getting its products into a wide variety of retailers and retail channels.
Fan culture is now on lots of retailer’s radars and they are making efforts to keep abreast of latest trends. It has certainly opened up opportunities for IP that in previous years may have been overlooked or confined to the specialist market.
It had a genuine London Underground tube carriage on its stand and were using it to host meetings in. I understand it won an award for Best Stand at the show. Good on them and it was great to see a licensee really making the most of the licence they were working on.
I can imagine a few retailers might have been asking if they could re-create something similar in their shops.
Returning to the theme of technology being used well by companies. It was good to see Pinfinity and its augmented reality pin badges at the show. It has a range of licences including Magic the Gathering, G.I Joe, Pac-man and Tetris.
Pinfinity is a good example of company adding a new twist to a long-standing product format, but also a further example rather like the Panini stickers that toy retailers don’t just sell toys. Furthermore I imagine a number of retail attendees at the show wouldn’t describe themselves as toy retailers nor come from a traditional toy background.
I think we have to recognise that the shape of retail is changing and that retailers are emerging that buy in different ways seeking out a variety of products and not always buying down traditional lines.
One product range that I thought was another great example of a licence being used well and in a really focused way was Insect Lore’s World of Eric Carle – The Very Hungry Caterpillar range that includes items like bug viewers, bug goggles and a butterfly growing kit.
I can imagine this range would appeal to traditional toy retailers, but also resonate with buyers from sectors like garden centres, museum shops and farm shops.
I think a lot of toycos have realised that there is value in creating product ranges that will fit in and appeal to the growing sector of non-traditional toy shops.
My final highlight was seeing the Aardman plush range on Aurora’s stand. I have to declare an interest as Aardman is, of course, one of our clients. Seeing a range that includes Gromit, Morph, Shaun the Sheep and Robin, Robin presented all together was very satisfying.
Robin Robin in particular caught my eye as the product has been turned around very quickly. The film launched on Netflix in November. While I haven’t been that heavily involved in developing this range myself, it was uplifting to see it at the show and a welcome boost. I have written before that it is easy to get bogged down in deals and the day to day admin of licensing. Being at a trade show like Toy Fair reminded me about the importance of the product and celebrating success when deals turn into great product ranges.
Jerry Maguire asked people to show him the money but I think we should also be asking people to show us the product. Toy Fair and the exhibitors did a great job of showing us the product this week. There was a lot to be pleased about from a licensing point of view at the Toy Fair. I hope you all had your own Robin Robin moment!
Ian Downes runs Start Licensing, an independent brand licensing agency. His Twitter handle is @startlicensing – he would welcome your suggestions for what to look out for.