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Indies: The real winners this year

Though most of us probably tuned in to the Oscars last Sunday, a much smaller number was privy to the non-televised TOTYs - the toy industry's own coveted awards - on February 15. Like the movies, companies with big names and big budgets traditionally dominate each category. But like last year's darling Jennifer Lawrence or this year's ingénue Lupita Nyong'o, it's the newcomers that really capture everyone's attention.
March 5, 2014

Though most of us probably tuned in to the Oscars last Sunday, a much smaller number was privy to the non-televised TOTYs on February 15. The toy industry’s own coveted awards are similarly presented at a yearly gala complete with Hall of Fame inductees, insider jokes, extravagant sets and dancers, some predictable winners and a few noteworthy surprises.  It’s a night to honor ourselves, show off a little bling, and catch up with old friends. But it’s also a reality check on our industry: What’s trending? What’s changing? What’s not?

Like the movies, companies with big names and big budgets traditionally dominate each category.  Mattel, Hasbro, LEGO, Disney and Leapfrog are TIA’s Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.  But like last year’s darling Jennifer Lawrence or this year’s ingénue Lupita Nyong’o, it’s the newcomers that really capture everyone’s attention.

If you have a tween in your life, you undoubtedly know Rainbow Loom, the must-have craft kit for making rubber band bracelets. Just to underscore its popularity, on a recent show, Jimmy Kimmel modeled a suit made entirely of Rainbow Loom bracelets. This simple craft idea was created by Wichita State University graduates Choon and Yeow Ng, sells for under US$20, and was on everyone’s Christmas list this year. The consumer favorite won four awards, including Activity Toy of the Year, Girl Toy of the Year, Specialty Toy of the Year, plus the overall Toy of the Year Award. Think Gravity, Gravity, Gravity. But with a lot more goodwill from the audience.

Goldieblox, another startup company, was the other multiple award winner, taking home Educational Toy of the Year and the People’s Choice Award. (Goldieblox also scored an ad spot at the Super Bowl by winning an Intuit contest.) Debbie Sterling, Goldieblox’s founder, considers it her mission to get girls building. Last year LEGO Friends had a similar mission and was named Toy of the Year, even though people protested the pink blocks. This year, no one seemed to have a problem with Goldieblox’s girly grosgrain ribbon. We’ve come a long way, baby.

Stacy Leistner, VP of Strategic Communications for TIA, was enthusiastic about the winners, “The fact that small toy companies created some of the hottest toy crazes of the year speaks to the innovation and creativity of our industry.”

What does this influx of indies really mean to us? There will always be Mattel. But the people have spoken. And we should listen. The initial TOTY submissions are vetted by over 60 toy industry experts and insiders, then ballots are open to mass and/or specialty retailers (30%), media (20%), TIA members (30%), and consumers (20%). According to Leistner, “Direct consumer votes (received via ToyAwards.org) are weighted 20% of the total, but consumer behavior also influences how the retailers and journalists respond.  Media will vote for the ‘hot’ products they hear about from their readers and viewers, and retailers will vote for the products that are moving off their shelves.”

So let’s take our own selfie and recognize that we’re in the toy business. “Toy” and “business” are equally important. By paying attention to both, we can all be winners.

See the rest of the TOTY winners here.

Send your own thoughts and Oscar selfies to wendy@sandboxsummit.org

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