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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He’s big, green and, until May 20, he’ll remain unseen-that is, unless you are a toy buyer and are willing to sign a confidentiality agreement stipulating that you will not, under any circumstances, speak about the toys created for the Sony Columbia-TriStar feature film Godzilla. If you work in such a job and are amenable to this situation, you can get a sneak peak at the toy versions of the cranky monster and his human foes at Toy Fair this month in the Trendmasters showroom. But, to do so, you will need a specially issued swipe card. (The media will not be allowed to see the toys.)
The swipe cards and the confidentiality agreements are all part of Sony Signature’s super-secretive marketing plan, a promotional gamble it hopes will pay off at movie theaters and toy stores around the globe once the film opens on May 20 in 2,000 screens throughout the U.S. and products roll out to retail.
Amid the hush, what has been revealed is that master toy licensee Trendmasters, of St. Louis, Missouri, is developing 43 toys and other products based on the film, including action figures and vehicles, novelties and bags bearing the Godzilla logo. All the toys, which will range in price from US$3.99 to US$70, are designed to appeal to boys adventure play. Galoob, Equity Toys, Toy Biz, Giant, The Bibb Company, Ero Industries, Tiger Electronics, Dark Horse Comics and Scholastic are also on board as licensees.
For Trendmasters, producing the toys was an opportunity that comes around once every few decades.
‘There’s nothing close to the size and the scope of what this event is going to be in 1998,’ says DeWayne Booker, senior vice president of marketing for Trendmasters.
It’s not the first time Trendmasters has produced toys based on the Godzilla character. In 1993, it signed a licensing deal with Toho Co./UPA, owners of the property, to create toys modeled after the classic Godzilla movies of the 1950s. That deal also included the right to produce toys based on any future projects.
Working with Sony Pictures, however, did not afford Trendmasters the same kind of freedom it had enjoyed in making toys based on the characters in the earlier Godzilla films.
Trendmasters began talking with Roland Emmerich, the director of the fim, and producer Dean Devlin in TK, prior to the script’s completion. ‘We talked about storylines and about what other characters might be in [the film],’ says Booker. ‘We thought [our suggestions] would make for a better movie. . . and for better toys.’
As with the design of the toys, Trendmasters was allowed to make suggestions to the film, but Sony had the final say. Although Booker will not say what suggestions Trendmasters offered, none of these made it into the film. On the toy side, Trendmasters did push, to no avail, to create special equipment to fight Godzilla for the toy versions of the human characters in the film. Generally, toys based on human characters that don’t possess special gear or powers do not sell as well as those that do, says Booker, because kids want a toy that will help them to aspire to something more than who they are or who their dad is.
Despite Sony passing on its recommendations, Trendmasters is not suffering from sour grapes. Because of its high icon-value, Booker expects Godzilla toys to far outsell the ones Trendmasters created for Independence Day, another film by director-producer team Emmerich and Devlin. ‘Godzilla has a 40-year-old pedigree,’ says Booker, ‘Independence Day did not.