Although toys are the marquee product at the American International Toy Fair, they are really just the focal point of a much larger panorama of marketing strategies, entertainment programs and emerging cultural trends that are on display at the annual event in New York City. Toy manufacturers are now closely associated with a variety of other industries, from production studios to marketing companies to ad agencies and retailers. As a result, Toy Fair has become a kind of bellwether of upcoming trends and a place where a wide cross-section of people come to shop not just for toys, but also for insights into what’s new and hot.
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Building on the success of its Rugrats licensing program, Nickelodeon is introducing products at Toy Fair based on another of its hit shows, Blue’s Clues.
The blue dog makes her debut at Toy Fair with soft toys from Eden, felt boards and play sets from Learning Curve International, arts and crafts and activity products from Colorbšk, Blue costumes from Disguise Costumes, card and board games from University Games, stick-on play sets from Colorforms, flapboard, sticker and other kinds of books from Simon & Schuster, coloring books and other activity toys from Landoll, videos from Paramount Home Video and CD-ROMs from Humongous Entertainment. In addition, Nick is announcing a master toy licensing agreement with Tyco Preschool.
‘We want to build on the dimensions of the show and the interactive nature of it and develop what we think is a compelling and unique licensing program,’ says Ann Sarnoff, Nickelodeon’s executive vice president of consumer products and business development.
Building a licensing program for Blue’s Clues was a priority for Nickelodeon.
‘We need to put a strong program in place so kids can interact with Nickelodeon and Nick Jr. not just on [television], but also in their everyday lives,’ says Sarnoff.
Set in a computer-generated storybook animation world, Blue’s Clues revolves around the adventures of an animated puppy, Blue, and her friend, Steve, the show’s live-action host. Each episode challenges preschoolers to discover what Blue needs by collecting clues she leaves and putting them together to figure out the answer.
As the show, which debuted on Nickelodeon in 1996, grew in popularity, a natural demand for consumer products was created, according to Sarnoff. Reaction to the show was ‘phenomenal,’ she says, and Nick’s ‘phones [were] ringing off the hook from moms, as well as the trade and retail asking for product.’
Blue’s Clues has a unique and contemporary format that appeals to both young children and young parents, says Richard J. Miller, president and CEO of Eden, which is producing four sizes of velour soft toys, a television play-along kit and two sets of placemats and utensils based on the property.
The Blue’s Clues license, along with a license for another preschool program, Teletubbies, mark the first time the company will create toys based on properties originally created for television. Eden has traditionally produced toys based on book characters, like Paddington Bear and the Beatrix Potter animals.
Eden was keen to be involved with Blue’s Clues, according to Miller, because ‘television can, in a matter of months, create awareness that a book might take 10 or 20 years to do.’ In addition, Eden was impressed with the success of Nick’s licensing program for Rugrats and with Blue’s Clues large viewership.
Nickelodeon first started thinking about Blue’s Clues products early last year.
‘We wanted to have an opportunity for the show to establish itself with a new young audience and have the kids become attached to the characters and give [parents] the opportunity to experience the show and see the benefits of learning and skill building that their kids were gaining from the series,’ says Maureen Taxter, general manager and vice president of licensing at Nickelodeon.
Licensees were clamoring to get on board, according to Sarnoff. In addition, because the property’s target audience includes five- and six-year-olds, there was an opportunity to partner with a wide range of licensees.
Blue’s Clues products will be in stores for the first time beginning in June.
‘First and foremost, [the show] has a very strong emotional connection to the audience and I think that’s the pillar of any successful licensing program,’ says Sarnoff.
At Toy Fair, Nickelodeon is also showcasing a number of toys based on the upcoming Rugrats movie, which is set to hit theaters in November. Mattel is the master toy licensee.