There were thousands of new toys to see, and thousands more buyers and sellers to talk to, but there was only one big question in the hallways and showrooms of the 93rd American International Toy Fair In New York: ‘What’s the buzz? What’s hot?’
After an intense round of floor-walking and showroom-touring, the consensus appeared to be that the question, this year, remained unanswered.
The toy industry is projected to reach $21 billion in retail sales in the United States in 1996, a three to four percent increase over last year. But at this point, if the industry d’es achieve that growth, it will do so without the benefit of any one star performer.
There was a lot of buzz surrounding the potential of toy lines derived from a number of up-coming features, such as 20th Century Fox’s summer release ID-4 Independence Day, Warner Bros.’ upcoming Space Jam, Disney’s animated feature Hunchback of Notre Dame and next fall’s Star Trek Generations II from Paramount Pictures.
And the early ratings success of the Fox network’s Goosebumps series seemed to have generated the most excitement among hot new television properties.
But as one ad agency executive said, after several days of reviewing toy showrooms: ‘I didn’t come out of this Toy Fair with any clear feeling of a hot new trend.’
Following are some selected showroom highlights:
Best Overall: It would be difficult to top the Mattel showroom by dint of sheer volume of product (one report had it that the full tour, taking into account a complete viewing of all a/v presentations, would have taken six hours to complete).
Mattel also scored high marks for innovation, particularly in its interactive products marketed under the Mattel Media name. The $1-billion-plus Barbie brand introduced an interactive CD-ROM-based line-up that included a game that allows girls to design clothes for Barbie or create their own Barbie ‘cover girls’ using on-screen makeup and accessories. The game allows the player to print out a simulated magazine cover.
Mattel’s interactive lineup includes a new Hot Wheels game in which the vehicles zoom around an on-screen track or over terrain. The mouse that controls the play is a model car, which vibrates in the player’s hand to simulate the rev of a gasoline engine.
Interactivity’s where it’s at: CD-ROMs and floppy disks appeared alongside many toys, sometimes as separate tie-in products, or often as value-added premiums bundled directly inside blister packs.
Star Trek master toy licensee Playmates, for example, is offering an in-pack CD-ROM that carries the story of Starfleet Academy training lessons and cadet bios of related action figures.
Trendmasters, one of the more impressive showrooms with a high-tech assortment of voice- and motion-activated toys, also includes a floppy disk with its ID-4 action figures. The disks allow kids to play out sequences from the film to accompany their toys.
High-quality interactivity: Interactive games and toys are showing signs that the medium is moving onto a new plateau of high-quality graphics.
Hasbro Interactive’s Monopoly CD-ROM game and Broderbund’s Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? CD-ROM are both prime examples of new standards in CD pictures.
The classic Monopoly game, which can be played in English, French and German on the Internet, takes on a whole new life with vivid pictures depicting the well-known board game properties.
And Broderbund has taken its international detective game to a whole new level with enriched stories, full-motion video and a vast array of richly illustrated background settings.