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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To herald the arrival in America this spring of Teletubbies, the popular British TV show aimed at preschoolers between the ages of one and five years, a small batch of new toys and licensed products is being developed by the likes of Hasbro, Eden and Learning Curve International.
Hasbro’s license includes soft toys, figures, games, puzzles, bath toys and juvenile and infant care products, which will be marketed under several of Hasbro’s leading brands, including Playskool, Playskool Baby, Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers. Eden is producing a line of soft Teletubby toys for the specialty store distribution channel, while Learning Curve International is supplying wooden Teletubby toys and puzzles for the same market.
Although not all of Hasbro’s Teletubby products will be ready in time for Toy Fair, one of the toys that will be shown-Talking Teletubby-is positively going to take the marketplace by storm, according to Kenn Viselman, president and CEO of The itsy bitsy Entertainment Company, the show’s U.S. partner that handles licensing and marketing.
‘The toy’s amazing,’ says Viselman, declaring that the impending arrival of Talking Teletubby has already created a stir among retailers and consumers who want to get their hands on it.
‘If there’s such a thing as an `important’ toy, Talking Teletubby looks like it’s it,’ says Viselman, relating his observation that even very young children react with glee when they hear the recorded voice that is emitted when the toy figure’s belly is pushed.
Admitting that he wasn’t initially convinced that a talking toy was the most appropriate plaything for very young children, Viselman says he had to set aside his reservations after seeing how children as young as one year old reacted to the unique sounds emanating from the dolls.
‘When we watched young children playing with the Talking Teletubby,’ he recounts, ‘they would actually start to talk to their toys. So, when Tinky Winky says `eh oh,’ the child says `hello’ back to them. The fact is, the toy actually engaged the child, and that’s a really important part of helping a child to learn.’
Teletubbies, which is being promoted as the first TV show specifically created for children as young as one year old, will premiere on PBS in April as part of the public network’s Ready to Learn Service. Created and developed by U.K.-based Ragdoll Productions, the series features four ‘technological babies,’ named Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa and Po, whose tummies light up to become TV screens that show pictures of happy children from the real world.
The show, says Viselman, is intended to help young children interpret their surroundings by teaching them such fundamental concepts as object permanence and distance. To that end, the show and the toys that evolve from it are intended to make use of such repetitive motion play patterns as peek-a-boo, round-and-round, up-and-down and in-and-out.
According to Viselman, the toys will not do anything to undermine the intrinsic educational qualities of the program itself, which he describes as being about ‘helping children feel more confident in their world.’
‘It’s very important to us,’ he says, ‘that the television show is the lead product. We’re not looking to create a vehicle for merchandising. We’re looking to create a television show that helps young children.