That the American International Toy Fair is a bit of a circus, there can be little dispute. Perhaps it is less so today compared to years ago, now that retail buyers are more eager to close deals and more disciplined and demanding in the marketing plans they expect to see.
But the sense of carnival is still there. How could it not be, given the subject matter-toys?
Imagine an entire building in the Chelsea district of Manhattan-and several other locations within blocks of it-bursting with just about anything that anybody’s ever been able to conceive of that will make children want to play. There are expensive toys with sophisticated electronics systems that cost hundreds of dollars, and there are simple novelty items that cost pennies. There are huge companies that rent buildings on their own for the week of Toy Fair, where to walk through the entire ‘showroom’ of products would take half a day. And there are small companies with one or two ideas. There are people in pin-striped suits and there are people in every other imaginable attire, who are more in keeping with the bazaar atmosphere.
As many industry experts point out in various stories in our special report on Toy Fair, this week-long affair is a unique date on every busy executive’s calendar of events. What makes Toy Fair different is that it draws people from so many industries, all looking to find in next fall’s toy line-and, often, the entertainment products from which they are derived-answers to their own particular questions. What will be amusing kids next fall is a good harbinger of trends to come.
Yet, in spite of all the tangential industries and interests that have become strategic partners in the toy manufacturing process, the real creative heart of Toy Fair remains the thinking and the ingenuity that goes into the toys themselves. It is difficult not to feel some sense of awe over the engineering, design and pure scope of imagination that one sees at the show, from the simplest of movements in an action figure to the intricate detail of a miniaturized play set. Also, one can’t help trying to picture the mindset and the frame of reference used by the creative talent behind these ideas and executions.
And, as the alliance between toy makers and the entertainment industry tightens, one can’t help but wonder what affect this will have on the creative partnership. As Paul Kurnit, president of ad agency Griffin Bacal, points out in a story in this issue: ‘More and more, the non-toy involvement . . . and the licensing involvement of a given property play a bigger role in establishing the belief that trade should get behind it.’
The ever-increasing need to stand out from marketplace clutter just to make kids aware that a product exists suggests that, if anything, the non-toy influence over toy creative will grow.
The close co-existence of these two creative cultures is a delicate relationship that, like any other, will require a very careful touch.