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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As the Power Rangers live-action TV show morphs into yet another form for 1998, master toy licensee Bandai America is set to roll out a whole new line of Power Rangers toys and accessories at this year’s Toy Fair.
Power Rangers in Space, the newest incarnation of the live-action adventure program that was launched by Saban Entertainment in 1993, once again features a well-armed band of teen heroes, decked out in colorful Spandex outfits, fighting off the forces of evil. The twist this time around is that the young martial artists now find their battles with a host of nasty characters taking place in outer space.
As with previous Power Rangers relaunches-Power Rangers ZEO in 1996 and Power Rangers TURBO last year-the new space-themed program will be accompanied by the release of a wide selection of new toys and accessories that are ‘consistent with the new direction of the TV show. . . everything from light-up features to intergalactic gliders to all kinds of space vehicles and space weaponry,’ according to Brian Goldner, Bandai’s executive vice president of sales and marketing.
Items slated for unveiling at Toy Fair include a variety of new Power Ranger action figures, morphing Zord and Megazord fighting figures and space vehicles, and role-playing toys with such far out names as Quadroblasters, Spiral Sabers and Astro Blasters.
Such products, says Goldner, are the end result of a close working relationship Bandai has forged with the show’s producer, Saban Entertainment, and broadcaster, Fox Kids Network. By being involved with the program at the conceptual stage, he says, Bandai is able to create toys that have an immediate tie-in to the show’s continuing storyline.
Supporting Goldner’s comments, Susanne Lee, senior vice president of licensing and merchandising at Saban, says that such an approach feeds into the popularity of the on-air property. ‘It gives the child at home the chance to play out what they’re seeing on television. It’s the perfect way to do it,’ she says.
For example, she says, Bandai will be able to take advantage of the fact that Power Rangers in Space will feature several special multi-episode ‘events’ within the season around such recurring characters as Phantom Ranger or Silver Ranger.
‘As we begin the process of deciding where the Power Rangers will go,’ Goldner explains, ‘we begin envisioning what the toys might look like just as the production people begin to envision what the story may be.’
‘Every week when kids see the episodes and get excited about the Power Rangers finding a new space vehicle, for example, they’ll be equally thrilled to find that new space vehicle in the toy store,’ says Goldner, adding that eventually Bandai should be able to get the pace of new product introductions down to a weekly or monthly basis.
In addition to the new toys being unveiled at Toy Fair, the wraps will come off a virtual reality Power Rangers in Space ride. The eight-minute display, which can accommodate dozens of riders at a time, will be set up at select Wal-Mart locations in major markets across the U.S. later this year.