The Toy Industry Brand Is Under Attack; what can be done and who will do it?

In my last posting, “Define and Defend the Toy Industry Brand; a call to action, ” I wrote about my reaction to reading an article by a financial analyst that used the term “stigma” to describe the toy industry.   My concern is that this kind of negative language scares off investment money and money is the lifeblood of any industry.  The toy industry must take control of its image or it will be defined by others.

The toy industry is a brand.  It is interesting, however,  that the “toy industry,” a business based heavily on brands, is seemingly unaware that it is in itself a brand.  This lack of self-awareness and the resulting lack of consistent, on-going brand development have had consequences.  One way to grasp this fact is to consider the results when Googling the words “Toy Fair,” “CES” and “E3.”

Toy Fair (Toy show)                                       1.5 million Google results

CES (Consumer Electronics Show)       241 million results Google results

E3 (Video Game show)                                93.3 million Google results

E3, which is not quite 20 years old, secures roughly 62 times as many results as Toy Fair which was founded over 100 years ago.  CES, founded in 1967, gets roughly 161 times as many results. 

Why do E3 and CES get more results?  Maybe because they  have a brand message that suggest to an investor, reporter or analyst that  attending E3 or CES is going to be filled with anticipation about seeing really cool, cutting edge things they have never seen before. 

As I wrote earlier this month in my postings,  “Toy Fair and the Face of the Toy Industry,” and  “Toy Fair Is a Mirror,” Toy Fair appears to be more about the past and present that about the future.  This happens because Toy Fair allocates space based upon legacy.  The longer you have shown; the better your floor space.  It’s a fair way to allocate space but the result is that anyone entering the main hall sees basically the same exhibitors that have been there for decades. 

The unintended consequence is that an investor, reporter or analyst covering the show in anything less than an in-depth manner thinks that nothing has really changed and there is not a lot of innovation.  That’s a shame because, in actuality, Toy Fair is an exciting place with lots of innovation but you do have to look for it

The Toy Industry Association, which is the voice of the toy industry and the owner of Toy Fair, is the natural steward of the toy industry brand.  Developing and managing the toy industry brand is, however, more than a once a year task and It is more than being reactive about bad news.  It is a 365 day a year campaign to market the toy industry as a great place to invest and reap rewards. 

The Toy Industry Association is turning a new page with a new President who is going to bring fresh new ideas.  I hope one of his new ideas has to do with making “Toy Fair” a brand that reflects the excitement that it truly is.  

Is the toy industry a brand?  Should the TIA be its steward?  Is it even an issue?  Let us know your thoughts.


37 thoughts

  1. I’ve really enjoyed reading Richard’s article and everyone’s insightful comments. As a play advocate, I can’t speak to some of the more business specific issues such as the timing of NYTF for purchasing decisions, but I definitely think Richard is right on target when he talks about the need for better industry branding overall.
    There’s been a marked decline in play over the last 10 – 15 years for a whole host of reasons. But the reality is that this decline is not only bad for children, but it’s bad for the toy and game industry and we must work to reverse that trend.
    In my opinion, the industry can take several steps to improve their branding and respond to the decline in play.
    1) Promote play in general. This is a challenge because toy and game companies have to devote money that could otherwise go to marketing a specific toy or game and instead direct it to a broader message – but I think this effort has to be made or play will continue to decline to everyone’s detriment. I am excited that TIA has launched the Genius in Play campaign and hope their support for that campaign continues and grows. At this past World Congress of Play, we talked a lot about how to better message play and connect those in the for-profit industry with play advocates and researchers. I’m excited to announce that we will be launching a new non-profit umbrella organization, Partners for Play, to achieve those goals. TIA has kindly offered some seed money support and we are looking for a few additional industry company sponsors so that we can build the organization’s website and a curated play research database. If any of you would like more information about the new organization or are interested in learning about how to get involved as a sponsor, please e-mail me at
    2) Support ChiTAG and help it grow. The Toy Fair is intended to connect manufacturers with retailers. ChiTAG connects families with play. That is the perfect venue to promote play. Two years ago, we held the World’s Largest Playdate there and set a Guinness World Record. I still hear from families who participated in that events. Because ChiTAG has the flexibility to embrace everything from PlayChic to the Young Inventor’s Challenge as well as the various game tournaments that different brands sponsor, it is the perfect venue to bring visibility to the importance of play by facilitating an amazing weekend of participatory play experiences. I love ChiTAG, but I’m always shocked that there are companies that don’t choose to participate. It’s the perfect place to get early holiday buzz for your new release or get lots of parent and child feedback. I hope that more traditional toy and game companies participate as well as those in the digital space and other areas of play so that ChiTAG can be an inclusive face of play and support more creative interactive experiences.
    3) Look behind the toy! I think Mary’s idea of promoting inventors is pure genius. Kids love to meet their heroes in person and the creator of their favorite toy or game could easily become their hero if they only knew who that person was. Building up the importance and prestige of inventors is a great way to promote play and sell product.

  2. Thanks, Richard, for creating a forum for intelligent dialogue and lively debate! The wonderful passion of the toy community to develop and deliver quality play product and joyful experiences is evident in the questions and comments. If you are not already, I invite you share your voice by becoming a TIA member and participating in volunteer opportunities and committee work. In this way you can directly help shape the future of TIA’s marketplace events.

  3. NYTF is a traditional, to the trade trade-show that is necessary for Toy Stores and toy manufacturers to do business. But why can’t kids be a part of it? Extend it a day and have a Kid-Day. Or extend the hours — and let kids build excitement and have FUN. The energy would be amazing.
    It’s the kind of energy CHiTAG aleady has, and it’s what made want to be a part of ChiTAG. We are SO excited to be joining Mary this year with a Kidz Only Review Booth at ChiTAG, and with KidzVuz Star reporters (they’re kids too!) on the Red Carpet for the TAGIEs. Hopefully, KidzVuz’ combination of on-site activity and online reviews will help bring ChiTag and the Toy Industry a wider digital audience.
    We look forward to being a tool for the toy industry to reach kids online, and to be the place at ChiTag where kids go to have their say. Because in the end – it’s kids’ opinions about toys that matter most.

  4. Two years ago my daughter’s 4th Grade Advanced Placement class teacher gave them a project. They were to team up with a classmate, design a game and present it at CHITAG’s Young Inventor’s Challenge. My daughter and her classmate won the People’s Choice award in the Junior category in 2013.
    I encourage everyone to come attend CHITAG on the opening day, which is Saturday. The Young Inventor’s Challenge presentation is only for that day. You’ll be amazed at the creativity and imagination of these kids. You see how eager they are to tell you about their games, and you marvel at their designs. Many use simple cardboard boxes, tape, glue, etc. Some are a little more elaborate, with some help from their parents. You can tell there was quite a lot of thought and work put in by these inventors.
    The following year, it was not a required assignment for the 5th graders but many of them participated anyway.Their initial experience at the Young Inventor’s Challenge was so positive that they were inspired to enter again.
    In their 2nd entry last year my daughter and her classmate came up with a different game. This time they won First Place Junior Category, from the judges’ votes. They were so excited, especially upon learning that part of the price package was a trip to New York for the Toy Fair.[We went last month and had a fabulous time. We were given a 1 hour guided tour, before the fair officially opened. The displays were amazing but we had to leave at the end of the hour because it was only for the industry folks. Many of you have addressed that exclusivity aspect already]
    This year the girls are considering participating in the Young Inventor’s Challenge again. Having won People’s Choice Award their first year, then winning Judge’s award the following year, I was concerned that they may expect to place each time, and be heartbroken if they didn’t. My daughter reassured me, “Mom, if we don’t win it’s okay. We just do it because it’s fun”.
    I may not be in “the industry”, but as a Mom
    I give CHITAG thumbs up, 5 out of 5 stars, for its Young Inventor’s Challenge showcase.
    By the way, last Christmas my daughter asked Santa for the one toy she really wanted. She saw and fell in love with it at CHITAG. Not really expecting to get it, she provided her alternate choices. Her reaction Christmas morning when she saw the Crazy Cart in the garage… priceless

  5. Having been a supplier who has exhibited, hosted consumer event and group tournaments, created promotional connectivity and capitalized from ChiTAG’s inventor community…I’ve also been on the other side of walking the floor with family members and witnessing first hand the value of the “family outing” and hands on community fair that ChiTAG creates for the traditional toy and game industry. It’s not just a weekend show, it’s several days of Media, Fashion, Industry, Family, and Trends…no other show or conference comes close to it’s value in the toy & game arena. The challenge gets tougher and tougher with the competing industry “brand” leaders as you’ve pointed out Richard. How do we toy and game developers/manufacturers make ourselves relevant in the ever changing tech savy world? I’m eager to see what the TIA will offer in its new leadership. NY Toy Fair is a “supplier meets Retailer” must…ChiTAG is that and even more…for all the reasons posted. It’s founder, Mary Couzin, is a rock star in every capacity…endless hours devoted to the wide variety of events that takes place at the perfect time of year (during Michigan Ave Festival of Lights and Parade). Its success doesn’t stop at the well chosen time of year for the consumer…Mary puts the industry, its leaders, and the community first and foremost in all that she touches. I’m hopeful the Toy Industry new leadership places emphasis on the importance of supporting the industry’s “branding” need, the leaders like Mary who devotes her life toward this initiative, and towards the elevation of awareness and global importance for having traditional game play in our fast speed interactive world. With the TIA’s support, ChiTAG and other industry shows will continue to grow and thrive in connecting the community to its developers, manufacturers and distribution partners…just like the Entertainment World does so well.

  6. Correction starts with a few simple questions:
    1) What are the marketing credentials and experience of TIA OPERATING leadership and key staff?
    2) Do they have a comprehensive tactical and multi-year strategic marketing plan?
    3) What are the marketing skills, experience and motivation of TIA EXECUTIVE board or mentors who will assess the quality of the marketing plan and it’s creators?
    4) What metrics beyond Google results will be measured?
    This basic, boring stuff – but if you don’t check through these adequately, all other effort and energy is futile.

  7. This comment thread looks like the Who’s Who of the Toy Industry!
    From my perspective as a PR professional, I think Toy Fair plays an important role in the annual PR pipeline. It’s the cocktail and appetizer in the annual toy news feast. The toy trends bubble up at Toy Fair (Champagne, anyone?) and smart marketers shift Q4 plans accordingly to leverage those trends. Toy Fair PR can also help build retailer confidence and drive sell-in.
    If Toy Fair is the appetizer, ChiTAG is the dessert. And what’s a feast without dessert? As many have noted above, ChiTAG is extremely valuable to the toy industry. At just the right time, it brings together toy makers and families in a sweet, playful and interactive environment – the perfect combination to drive holiday sales and media coverage. And the inventor recognition breathes real life into the mass production image of today’s toys and games, inspiring the next generation of Who’s Who of the Toy Industry.

  8. Addendum to my earlier post…
    I think each show/event has purpose and by all working together, we can build a bigger and stronger industry. Case in point is Nuremberg and Essen Fairs. I don’t think it a coincidence that the largest toy industry trade show (70,000+) and consumer show (158,000+) are in the same country, one in Jan/Feb and the other in Oct.
    Bringing this idea home, I’m on a few TIA committees (PlayCon, TOTY Nom Com), have spoken at NYTF and have written for and spoken at ASTRA in the past. I exhibit and have hosted get-togethers at both shows. Both ASTRA and TIA have been supportive of our events and I hope we continue to work together. Conversations like this give us ideas to be the best we can be which makes the industry stronger.
    Chris, love to have you join us this November at our various events. Trade and their families are our guests at the Fair as are media, educators, Scouts and a few other groups. It is the same weekend as the Disney Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, the nation’s largest evening holiday celebration, marshaled by Mickey and Minnie Mouse with fireworks over the Chicago River attracting 1.2 million people and airing in 85% of the US. There is synergy with our Fair, just blocks from the parade with attendees from the Midwest and beyond, local/regional/national/international media and 25 countries were represented last year. We are working to get other parts of the City involved like the art museums, film centers, music halls and more hosting events for a week celebrating the importance of play. The heart of all the events will always be toys and games, play can happen most anywhere. Our industry can “Teach the World to Play in Perfect Harmony”. Love to partner with Coke and get that message out there!

  9. Apologies to Chris Heatherly who DID mention Comic-Con. “Oversubscribed” a good problem to have.

  10. This is a financial industry analyst writing for effect. Who knows what axes he has to grind and how it shapes his characterization of the industry. In fact, it’s a pretty sure bet his view of the toy and game industry is limited to a handful of big companies, a situation reminiscent of that famous New Yorker cover showing a view of the world from NYC with Manhattan as the center of everything and rest of the world as just a few names in the distance. Sure Hasbro and Mattel are dominant in the industry but it’s myopic to pronounce an entire industry as facing its “demise” based on Hasbro’s recent success extending its physical brands (And aren’t they all based on toys and games that are still reasonably successful physical products? Transformers, My Little Pony, Monopoly, etc.) into entertainment and digital products.
    Although I wouldn’t overreact to one analyst’s overreaching statement, it does good service in raising the whole branding question. I wonder if TIA’s industry branding issue is that it has allowed the big companies like Hasbro and Mattel to define its brand and agenda, and thus the industry’s brand and agenda, by default over the years. Richard is on the right track when he calls on TIA to work on the industry’s brand 365 days a year, but if the agenda (and the funding?) is dominated by the big guys whose business focus is on Toy Fair that could be hard to do. Is there room and are there resources at TIA for the Toy Fair business agenda and broader outreach to media, business and consumers?
    CHITaG is a great model of another approach to this issue — its brand extensions into fashion shows, industry awards, young inventor expos shows innovative thinking — but it needs more industry support to make more of a difference. SXSW’s big wide tent is a good model for CHITaG and possibly for TIA because it broadens the brand from just one of physical toys to the concept of play. Promote play and people will want things to play with. Right? I agree with Kim. CHITaG would be a great platform for industrywide PR.
    P.S. I’m surprised no one brought up the Comic-Cons as a possible model for the industry. It has dual (and dueling) mother ships and many satellites. It combines business with spectacle and encompasses all aspects of its subject: physical products, publishing, digital and entertainment. It gets media, creates buzz, sells product and definitely raises consumer awareness. It’s certainly not a perfect model, but it is probably the closest thing to a SXSW of play out there.

  11. As a long time veteran of digital content and the video game industry, getting involved in the Toy Industry held quite a bit of surprise for me. My first experience was with ChiTag, which gave me a warm impression of a co-operative industry where invention and play are honored and encouraged.
    My first Toy Fair was eye opening in quite a different way. What I can tell you about shows like E3 is that there is a palpable sense of excitement about what’s happening in the industry. The shows are energizing in their own way, and you leave with a sense of where things are headed and what has captured the the imagination of the community.
    Toy Fair seemed to be about corporate buyers first, a strictly-business bazaar where numbers dominate and play is an afterthought. I found it enormously disappointing to walk one of the largest shows in the industry and find zero sense of wonder or excitement.
    The toy and game industry is full of wonderful, creative, and kind people that I’ve really enjoyed getting to know – they are what drives meaningful innovation. To my mind, Toy Fair does not project that — it should be front and center in representing the industry, and it’s not.
    To have a sense of excitement, wonder, and relevance, a show like ChiTag is absolutely essential to the Toy and Game Industry. Consumer involvement and enthusiasm must be generated and harnessed. ChiTag is the most promising vehicle to make that happen and move us toward a brighter future.

  12. CES and E3 aren’t technically open to the public but they are consumer shows in all aspects except name only and its not very hard to get in. It keeps the “consumers” a little more qualified than the general public but there are fanboys crawling all over that show.
    Never been to ChiTag, sounds great. But the media is really in NYC and LA. The industry needs something closer to a media hub.

  13. Thanks Richard for asking the questions that sparked these two totally different yet related threads.
    1. It IS correct to compare NYTF to CES & E3 as they are closed to the public. The TIA has some work to do to create the excitement that these other events do in the marketplace but in the comparison we must take into account that media coverage of CES & E3 is speaking directly to an audience that is interested in “consuming” the products (electronics & video games) personally the moment they are launched as opposed to “shoppers” who are looking for 4th quarter gifts for others and this is likely what accounts for the discrepancy in google searches.
    But I do agree fully with Bruce Lund and his point:
    “If ever an industry priding itself on innovation, fun and entertainment was in need of an injection of energy, excitement, playfulness and unrestrained joy, then we are it.”
    The “uninspired marketing” of products that always seems to put budgets before ideas is a problem that is also endemic in the promoting of the industry as a whole. We are an industry teeming with creative people and we should be better able to promote that industry. While re-creating the equivalent to the big events that once happened in New York during Toy Fair that Bruce mentions there are many other ways to make our industry more visible and exciting…
    …which leads to the second thread:
    2. The concept that shows that are open to the public are better for media coverage and our industry’s PR. Unfortunately for us our business is 4th Q heavy and so as an industry we should be putting more of our collective (TIA) dollars behind promoting not only our products but also the industry and our creativity at that time of year. The reason you will find such support in this forum for CHITAG is that, to those already involved, CHITAG seems an obvious concept to invest in to promote and strengthen our industry as a whole.
    1. TIMING couldn’t be more perfect, days before holiday shopping begins.
    2. PUBLIC. Shoppers excited about, and purchasing, new product
    3. MEDIA FRIENDLY with stories to tell. Here are toys you can buy right now.
    4. INVENTORS/DESIGNERS are here with their unique stories. The MEDIA gets it. Our industry must do as other creative industries do and shine a big spotlight on that creativity. The CHITAG show floor, the TAGIE Awards, PlayChic, the conferences all make us look good as a whole.
    5. CHITAG is an established and successful brand that already attracts the public as well as inventors/designers and Toy Companies from around the world. It needs the attention and investment of our North American industry as a whole to make it a true partner with the NYTF and become what Richard is suggesting we need: A way to market our industry as a whole to “investors, reporters and analysts” as well as the public.

  14. How amazing that one simple statement regarding brand self-awareness can spur so many other ideas.
    I agree that TIA is unaware that it is a brand. It should position itself in the same fashion that Coca-Cola, McDonald’s or Nike would. Be relevant and become a household name. To do that requires integration with industry, media, consumers, fanatics, niche and most important, trends.
    Industry: The lifeblood of this lies in the NYTF. It’s where brands can connect with merchants.
    Media: Just because something allows media doesn’t mean it is media-friendly. Speaking from the viewpoint of media, TIA needs to rethink barriers. NYTF does not allow children on the show floor – even as industry professionals. Our daughters interview inventors and brands providing a very different perspective than traditional media. Consumers and brands alike enjoy this kid-friendly, unbiased approach. That’s impossible at NYTF but encouraged at ChiTAG.
    Consumers: Taking a cue from the auto industry, open NYTF to the public, maybe on the last day or two. Give consumers a chance to look around while maintaining the same industry feel. Help existing consumer toy events (ChiTAG) thrive by encouraging brands to see the benefit in the direct link to the end users. A child is more likely to add an item to their holiday wish list (and a parent more likely to purchase it) if they have been given the opportunity to touch, feel and play with it already. As a bonus… it’s fun vs stuffy.
    Fanatics: Support events that are expanding the interest of toys beyond childhood. That’s a wide net of options: general (Comic-Con, D23, C2E2), specific (Star Trek, Barbie, Hot Wheels, Lego), niche (GenCon, BGG, PAX, Anime) and even local events/clubs. Support doesn’t imply financial or physical presence. The TIA could create a reference library so consumers have a place to locate events that will further their interest and passions that ultimately benefit the industry.
    Trends: Be aware, encourage and assist emerging trends – even when it may be unconventional. Inventors are turning to small run manufacturing and crowd funding programs to gauge interest and attention for their games. It is allowing new ideas and game concepts to be introduced into the market which is great for the industry as well as the consumer. With respect to philanthropic trends, expand Genius of Play to highlight existing initiatives (STEM, STEAM) that benefit the toy industry as a whole.
    There are multitudes of ways the TIA can brand themselves that ultimately are win/win for everyone involved.

  15. I’m way late to this party, but I pretty much agree with everyone else: ChiTAG and its accompanying events totally rock. They’re fun, they’re energizing, and they’re great business. Given the choice of ChiTAG vs. ToyFair, I’d pick ChiTAG every time.
    The question I’d ask about ToyFair is… what is the TIA’s goal with hosting it? ASTRA serves the specialty market exceptionally well. GTS has hobby more than covered. For educational stuff, it’s hard to beat EdExpo. ChiTAG is a consumer show with a host of industry events.
    Why would an industry association compete with its members? Imagine if, instead of competing with all these other shows, the TIA supported and facilitated them. I vote for streamlining Toy Fair. Pare it down to its essential functions, and point exhibitors and retailers toward where the real action and excitement is happening.
    That would be protecting the brand of toys. It would be focusing the spotlight where the excitement and energy is, and it would be encouraging all the up-and-comers. It would send a message that says “the TIA supports you”, instead of the other way around.

  16. Great thread Richard! I completely agree with the comments here. Why reinvent the wheel when cars are already humming down the track? ChiTAG is THE answer to getting the public, the press, and social media influencers fired up, and our industry needs to get behind it. Maybe even start it a day earlier (Friday?) to bring in more reporters, more news crews, and get it on the social grid on a weekday when more eyeballs are on FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

  17. I’ve been attending the New York Toy Fair for the last 22 years. (Is that right!? Time goes by too quickly!) When I think about heading to NYC for Toy Fair I find that I’m mostly thinking about the dinners, Times Square, walking in Central Park, etc.
    When I think about the Chicago Toy & Game Fair I think about happy kids, happy families, big smiles and energy…lots and lots of energy. There’s nothing like it in the whole industry. ChiTAG is a true one-of-a-kind experience.
    I look forward to ChiTAG every year and I feel it’s worth all the time and effort. It energizes me. ChiTAG is a very positive thing and very important in the grand scheme of things.
    I’m very thankful that ChiTAG exists and that it was created in a way that makes it possible to soak up all the positive energy generated by kids, families, etc.

  18. I don’t believe that NYTF should try and become CHITAG, because it never could. CHITAG is a unique experience of play, for the public, the media and yes, the toy and game manufacturers. I think the timing of NYTF should be addressed, but not its format. In that regard, I agree with Kim’s take. We should not look to other industry shows and try to become them, as we are unique. By way of example, if the movie industry worked as the toy industry does, then when your new film came out, it would have to try and squeeze its way into theaters alongside the greatest films of all time. Imagine a world where Gone with the Wind, Jaws, Star Wars, and The God Father were still playing every week and your little film had to compete with them for screen time in theaters? That’s what my new game must try and do; compete for shelf space with Monopoly, Scrabble, and Candy Land. My new toy has to try and elbow its way past Mr. Potato Head to earn a spot on a mass market shelf. When you consider Monopoly and its various off shoots, ask yourself this: What other entertainment choice from 1935 is still alive and well today? Sure you can rent Mutiny on the Bounty with Clark Gable from Netflix, but it’s not still playing in theaters. You can buy the song On the Good Ship Lollipop by Shirley Temple on iTunes, but it’s not still active on radio today. Monopoly still dominates. You can look at any hit toy or game and say the same thing. Toys really are timeless! This is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because we have a rich history and play connects us across generations, but it’s also a curse, because we are an industry that must look, to outsiders at least, very old-fashioned. This is one of the reasons I love CHITAG so much. They do great job of celebrating both the past and the future of play.

  19. I agree with Brian that ChiTag is the only positive innovation we’ve seen in toy shows since the decline (disappearance) of the NYTF and Mary does a magnificent job making it happen each year despite its lack of industry wide support. Chicago is a short flight from any coast. I agree its time for a newsworthy change in focus. Dallas is downright depressing.

  20. Some great feedback already – nice job Richard creating a forum!
    There are many different options available to all of us – staid trade shows are still the ‘norm’ in most industries sadly! Consumer shows can be, and are, very successful in our industry (ChiTag, Essen, Tokyo) and bring much energy and life for industry folks to see real world reaction to their products.
    The Toy industry has been stuck in a rut however the TIA is changing and bringing more to the table, Mary with ChiTag has created something fantastic and new for everyone, articles like this generate interest and press attention that we need.
    Worldwide the toy industry is not high profile enough. More consumer shows and/or combination shows such as ChiTag will help grab more attention but we need more spokes-people like Richard to generate conversations on and off line!

  21. The boggling amount of toy industry events always serves to remind me that our industry has perhaps too many “vestiges” of old thinking and old ways. There is a “going through the motions” feeling to NYTF and virtually every major event we participate in. Why are we at NYTF? Because we are always at NYTF!
    Its for buyers! No, not really. Then its for press! Only if you want your announcement fighting for airtime with every other toy announcement!
    But industry-only shows ignore the convergence of customer and maker. It’s a DIY world and customers have the expectation that they are part of the development process, or even leading it.
    This significant change happening to our industry is reflected in only a few shows – ChiTAG chief among them. It’s perhaps the only time our industry drops itself to the level of the customer creator and lets amateurs mingle with veterans; kids talk shop with established inventors; and everyone who is anyone can just sit down and start playing.
    That ChiTAG is the outlier rather than the norm is indicative of one of our industry’s greatest obstacles in the years ahead. We just don’t enough embrace our customers’ own creativity and imaginations.

  22. I agree that NYTF is for business whereas the other shows are for the public. An unfair comparison. If a comparison is to be made than look at other similar-size industry trade shows. The biggest public-open event for the toy and game industry is the Chicago Toy and Game Fair that Mary described above and happens in November of each year. Comic-Con mentioned above is a show for fans of a very large but niche part of the toy and game industry. CHiTAG is for the masses who want to see what’s new before Christmas. It is filled with families and children, toy and game companies.
    So you asked is the toy industry itself a brand? I don’t think so. Instead I would say it’s an industry that has many different events that are based on it. CHiTAG is a brand aimed at the public interested in toys and games. NYTF is a brand aimed at the businesses as is the Nuremberg Toy Fair. BGG Con, Essen Game Fair, GenCon are brands aimed at gamers specifically. But we all together service the toy and game industry. Just like there are different events that are brands like CES that service the electronics industry but it is the event that is the brand not the industry itself.

  23. Thanks Richard, for bringing this to the fore. And Mr. Heatherliy,, well spoken, and great points made.
    a. everyone has their own interests at heart, TIA, each toy company, you and I, everyone, and that is of course as it should be.
    b. The toy industry and the toy product category is horribly, abominably under marketed, a point I have been making for years. But it begs the question for me, “Does it matter?” “And if you think so, other than for your own personal benefit, then why does it matter?
    c. Like the CES Show the New York Intnl Toy Show can and should yell out loud about cool new toys the way they did once each year each
    February in Manhattan, with skydivers, monster trucks and costumed characters at 5th and Broadway, the crossroads of the world at the time.
    d. The Toy Business, unlike other product categories for adults, creates product that enlighten and inspire children, our future adults, who will shape our world when they grow up. Toys have the power not just to entertain, but to impact, and to mold the future. Afterall, we were all kids, playing with toys, and those toys influence and affect us all, from the leaders of government, scientists and educators, stewards of industry, down to all of us in the toy and game world. This is something to YELL about.
    e. This is what we need to do if our industry is to grow, prosper, in the fact of a changing world and myriad competition for the attention of the child and the parents hard earned cash. At least its a start.
    f. Oh, did I mention that The toy industry is boring. The toy shows are boring, too many of the toys are boring, the marketing uninspired. There are toy execs we work with that can suck the energy out of a room. They are in the wrong business, imho. If ever an industry priding itself on innovation, fun and entertainment was in need of an injection of energy, excitement, playfulness and unrestrained joy, then we are it.
    g. So if it matters, then action is called for. Just do it! Git ‘er done. Someone, the TIA, me, you, not sure whom, can begin. How bout Dallas as a place to begin, or the June Licensing Show. Any volunteers? Please raise your hand and we can meet during the break.
    h. Thank you again Richard, Chris, Mary, for caring so much. It will all start there.

  24. I have been in the Toy business for 30+ years – first with Jenga (which I launched at Toy Fair London 1983) and then with Oxford Games. But I didn’t exhibit at a Toy Fair anywhere after 1986 – until I was introduced to the Chicago Toy & Game Fair five years ago.
    In our case, the cloaked-in-secret nature of all trade only Toy Fairs were a real problem. Our quiet and rather cerebral games don’t really appeal to the major toy retailers – as we can’t offer TV promotion etc. It’s museums, bookstores, high-end gift shops and catalogues that do very well with the OG collection. And, just like books, our products are a slow burn and sell better from word-of-mouth of the people who play and enjoy the games; that is, the people who attend Chicago Toy & Game Fair, and other open-to-all events.

  25. As a boardgame inventor (Balderdash) and television game show creator and producer (Celebrity Name Game), I have been a member of the Toy and Game business for over 25 years. I believe that our Toy Fairs are vitally important but I do agree that flexibility and forward thinking is imperative and I can potentially see merit in the idea of adjusting the timing of the NYC show and/or the thought of possibly moving the Dallas show to LA. I was honored to be involved in ChiTAG for the first time this past November as host of PlayCHIC and a performer at the TAGIEs and I must say I was extremely impressed. I found it to be such a vibrant, innovative, well-executed and marketed event and I loved that the public was such a big part of it as well!

  26. I heart Chitag… Mary pours her heart and soul (with great helpers equally passionate) into that one and it shows with great results.
    A few years back my family owned a softball complex… faced similar obstacles… people playing softball in general was on a steady decline while the parks just competed against one another… when my family stepped they tried a different approach thinking what’s good for softball was good for everyone, and promoted softball in general versus competing for teams against nearby parks… nationally softball was on a decline every year, but our park saw an increase every year we owned it. Smart management and branding an industry as a whole is an excellent start. Mary Couzin does a great job with that same principal with Chitag… Nice article Richard… very interesting stuff!

  27. No single conference should be the end-all-and-be-all for an industry… Digital gaming has E3, GDC and PAX (among others). Each serves a unique purpose. The toy industry also has many conferences. Toy Fair serves a great purpose for our industry, and so does ChiTAG.
    ChiTAG is unique in the audiences it brings together, and in the way it chooses to do so: By celebrating the people who make the products.
    ChiTAG has been connecting, featuring and honoring toy and game inventors/designers – at both big companies and small – for more than a decade. A prescient focus, considering the growing global Maker culture. Consumers and the media want to connect with us! And they do, at ChiTAG.
    This innovative perspective inspired me to not only attend ChiTAG, but to get involved in the events myself. I hope that anyone who reads this important article and its comments takes a moment to check out ChiTAG and what it has to offer.

  28. Mary’s right. The Chicago Toy & Game Fair is an interactive, experiential Toy Fair that embraces both the consumer and the trade.
    Here,consumers can purchase product, get a sneak peek at new toys and games, AND actually meet the folks who invented them!
    Exhibitors not only sell product but have the best opportunity for gaining feedback from the largest toy and game focus group – 25,000+ consumers.
    ALL under one roof!

  29. The non-consumer aspect coupled with the February timing is bad for the kind of PR and general excitement Richard is hoping for. I agree with Mary about ChiTAG having ideal timing. It’s *right* before the big buying season and open to the public (Perfect for PR!) It’s a great way to showcase the hot holiday toys – but might be a bit of a tease when it come to showing stuff that won’t be out for a while. Unlike techy adults who attend CES looking for the next hot gadget that will be out in a year or two, our consumers have the patience of well.. a five year old. It’s hard when they get super excited for something and we have to tell them “wait until next Christmas.” That won’t work for several reasons: 1. They may age out of the product 2. Kids have tastes that change very rapidly and what is awesome one week is “meh” the next. 3. No one needs a show filled with temper tantrums. Our industry is a slightly different beast because our end consumer is so young. I agree we need to make some changes to Toy Fair but let’s look at what’s going to work for us instead of trying to mimic something we’re not. Regardless, I do think that an open to the public, right before the holidays show is something we, as an industry, should be promoting like crazy regardless of what we decide to do about NY Toy Fair. It would make sense to have ChiTAG be our industry’s big PR event (and yes I’m a Chicagoan but what a great time to showcase what Santa should be bringing!!)

  30. Chris makes some valid points, but I have to disagree with some of his observations.
    First, E3 is not open to the public, nor has it ever been. It’s been a while since I’ve been to CES, but unless it has changed in the last 10 years, it is not open to the public either. Reviewing their currnt FAQ seems to confirm that it isn’t.
    Comparing a cutting-edge technology show to one focused on introducing toy companies with retailers probably isn’t a good match. Of course these shows have more Google results because more people are willing to write about the new iPhone/Android/etc. than the latest Barbie. A better comparison would be how many people search “toy fair” compared to “CES”.
    If you open up NY to the public, then you’ve taken away the toy industry’s major way of meeting retailers, large and small. Nearly every industry has a trade-only convention, and there is still a place for it in today’s marketplace. However, I am not suggesting that the model of the NYTF is perfect, far from it.
    I do agree the timing of the show should be reviewed, but late Summer or Fall for an industry show is too late to get product onto the shelves for the Holidays. Ideally it should be in very late Spring, June at the latest, especially if it is going to stay in New York. I’m sure many companies, especially those in sunny Los Angeles, do not like the trek into the cold of NYC in February.
    I also find it odd that the booths are closed and invite only, especially when the show is trade only. Maybe there are secrets to keep, but keep those under wraps and have private meetings to discuss them. In my previous life, our trade shows dealt with much more security-critical products (think smart cards, gift cards and all means of financial instruments), and our trade shows were much more open (once you were inside) than the NY Toy Fair. But again that’s a comparison to a very different industry that was trying to advance their market and technology by sharing information rather than hiding it from each other.
    This in itself makes attending the NYTF not very media-friendly, and that should be the secondary purpose of the show. Getting information out about their new products so excitement can build for the buying season. Because the public isn’t there, it is the perfect opportunity to get exposure for product without needing to deal with answering the same question over and over to interested consumers.
    I think the solution to what Chris is suggesting is already out there in a smaller form and just needs the push from the industry to become bigger. As Mary Couzin mentioned above, there is a great toy show that is open to the public every year in Chicago. I’ve been to this show at least three times, and the vibe is very different on the show floor. You have smaller toy companies peddling their products and larger ones just displaying their entire lines. The vast majority of patrons are regular people doing their Christmas shopping and have even paid an admission fee for the privilege. It is still growing, but needs the participation of larger toy companies for brand recognition. And while cool temperatures prevail, Chicago in the Fall is lovely and rarely snow-covered.
    The downside is that while attending the Chicago show as media, it is extremely difficult to do our job as the attention of the vendors is focused on the paying consumers. Whether they are demonstrating toys or ringing up a purchase, they just don’t have the time to showcase or interview for the media in attendance. We have pushed for more media-only hours and hope it comes to fruition someday.
    I remember many of these exact same arguments about CES 10-15 years ago, and again right after 2008. But instead of opening it to the public, CES moved forward and is now larger than ever – thanks to a rebounding economy and exponential advances in new technologies that everyone wants to see. Maybe the toy industry’s problem is closer related to innovation rather than convention type/placement/timing. If I want to see cool new toys, I don’t think of a toy fair, I think of CES/E3/etc. Just like Chris mentioned also…
    TLDR: Industry trade shows are good, but model of NYTF could be updated. No snow, but early enough to guarantee Holiday placement. Consumers should visit Chicago.
    (not a paid sponsor for Chicago or their toy show, but am a loyal Cubs fan!)

  31. Its funny. I read this, and I initially reacted exactly the same way as Mr. Heatherly. There’s a huge difference between a consumer show and a true, legitimate trade show. Toy Fair has maintained its integrity as a closed trade show, and I think that only makes sense – for a show in February.
    Holding a consumer-based toy show later in the year – like ChiTag as Ms. Couzin discusses above – could be a catalyst for real toy excitement once again!
    Heck, when I was a kid, the thing we waited for to get pumped up for toys was the JC Penny catalog. In this day and age, we are tethered to catalogs, and entire shopping malls via the internet all day long. To have an event like ChiTag, where people can congregate in an environment of PLAY should really mean something. Mary calls it the SXSW of Play. Maybe it’s more like “Play-a-Palooza”! I’ve been to ChiTag, and it’s pretty magical. Its truly a Festival of Fun! Perhaps if more people knew about some of these terrific toy events that are open to the public, we could recreate that old school JC Penny catalog feeling once again! Lets not let Disney be the only place where dreams come true!

  32. I agree with Mary’s comments. One thing that makes an interesting toy story is “the hot toy” and you really don’t know what the hot toy is until Christmas when the kids vote by getting their parents to buy them gifts. To get that buzz you need to get it with consumers which is what Chitag does in the USA in November. Chris is also right that a trade show isn’t as interesting to the press as a consumer show
    As for brands, I don’t believe the toy brands are irrelevant as implied. Google Barbie and you will see plenty of hits. However, there is certainly room for all of us toy marketers to improve and I would like to borrow the beach house of whomever makes their toy as popular as the iphone 6.

  33. Toy Fair for media and consumers later in the year??
    Uh. That would be Chicago Toy & Game Fair.
    It’s already being done. And well.
    Jump on in! The water’s warm.
    It’s not a secret … it’s *Open to the Public*
    Don’t you feel like you’ve been missing something now?
    You should. You have!

  34. And, that is exactly what the Chicago Toy & Game Fair is – a media show open to the public the weekend before Black Friday. Last November we had over 300 million media impressions, attending was traditional media and over 400 bloggers, 25,000 consumers of which 35% are under 4 ft tall all coming to have fun and find out what is hot for the holidays. The trade attends to see what the consumers find interesting.
    And, we’ve added a few more unique events like PlayCHIC, TAGIEs, Young Inventor Challenge and Inventor Conferences for the trade and for the media. And, we are adding more events – think of it as the SXSW of Play.
    Mary Couzin

  35. Great points from Mr. Heatherly. In an ideal world, the Dallas showcase would be held in February for retailers/buyers and NYC Toy Fair would take place in late summer/early Fall for media and consumers. This would generate tremendous excitement and buzz for the holiday shopping season.

  36. The reason that CES and E3 are bigger shows is simple to understand – they are open to the public!
    Toy Fair has become a show with no clear purpose. Its time of year is unstrategic from a PR point of view – Late Summer or Fall would be a better time to announce new toys. Its not a consumer show, but its pointless as a retailer show because the buyer selections have been made at that point. Its become this ceremony we do in February every year because that’s how its always been done, not because it makes any sense in the modern world.
    The relationship the show has with the media and the public has always been baffling to me. The show is closed to the public and all the booths are closed invite only, but they let the media in and everything is up on YouTube in 5 minutes. What exactly we are trying to hide from the public here? Are we there to get PR or not? And if you aren’t, why erect a big expensive booth and throw a trade show for yourself? The retailers see all this stuff behind closed doors anyway.
    CES and E3 WANT you to come in. They want fans in their booths. They want social media. They want PR. Toy Fair is still toiling in this stodgy Cold War paranoia about competitors seeing one another’s product. Who cares? Its all on the Internet anyway and if its the wrong time or year to be showing stuff – MOVE THE SHOW to a time that works better for optimizing media.
    And the one you didn’t mention is ComicCon which is really what I think the TIA should be looking at. Now THAT IS A TOY SHOW! And fans can get in! Except they can’t because its so oversubscribed. New York Comic Con is exploding too. And toys are a big part of it!
    Toy Fair needs to move out of the 80s. The days of big trade shows for the benefit of retailers should be over when 4 guys control all the open to buy. Its a big fat waste of money if that is the case.
    Toys are culture and Toy Fair should be about celebrating toys place in our culture. If Toy Fair were a fan event, it would be bigger than ever, attract more celebrity talent, and make a much bigger dent in the universe.
    To prove this theory, I did a fan event at Toy Fair several years back for Cars 2. We invited D23 fans, the media, and retailers to a showcase with talent and a good product display. We had kids there! And we got tons more press than the folks on the floor.
    Also just kill or move Dallas. The toy industry can do a lot better than 2 floors of a flower mart. Move it to LA.
    I think Toy Fair could be an amazing event, but its time to think a lot differently.

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