Down to the wire …it’s John Baulch’s Friday Blog!

It really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas. The weather has turned, Halloween and Bonfire night have been and gone, and our screens have started to fill up with festive ads. It’s been interesting to see how retailers have pitched it this year; some have elected to adopt a more muted, toned-down approach, such as John Lewis. Personally, I like the ad, and skateboard companies will absolutely love it (although look out for lots of skateboarding dads in A&Es across the country in the New Year). Other ads are more upbeat: Smyths is a high-octane, toy-filled thrill ride with admirably high production values, while Asda even succeeded in persuading Warner Bros and Will Ferrell to let them feature footage of the iconic Buddy the Elf character in its ad, which many people have told me is their favourite creative execution of the season so far.

Trade has also kicked up a few gears; one indie suggested it was as if someone flicked a switch last Friday that said: “It’s Christmas” (best read in the voice of Noddy Holder singing Merry Christmas Everybody). Hamleys has unveiled its iconic Christmas windows (how long did it take someone to put all those Schleich reindeers in position?!) and suddenly, it all feels like the festive race is well and truly underway.

We’ve also seen the ‘big gun’ Christmas top toy lists come out in recent weeks. ITV’s This Morning ran a segment last Thursday, which I am told noticeably moved the dial for the toys featured. This year, the slot was sponsored by Studio Retail, who presumably worked very closely with the programme makers to curate the list. The sponsorship move was interesting on a number of levels: I am not sure I have ever seen anything quite that blatantly paid for masquerading as mainstream TV editorial content, although I am not sure how many viewers fully appreciated that (or indeed cared).

This week saw the annual Dream Toys event take place in London. Organised as ever by the Toy Retailers Association, one of the strengths of the Dream Toys list is the fact that it represents a good overview of what’s hot from a broad selection of retailers. I also get the impression that the Dream Toys Committee had stronger representation from specialist toy retail operations this year, as opposed to grocers and other multi-channel retailers. I am going to chalk up as a positive too, as I feel that they not only have a different agenda to the cross-category retailers, but also perhaps a more balanced view across the whole market. Indeed, there is a feeling amongst many toy suppliers that specialist retailers are performing comparatively better than some of their multi-channel counterparts right now.

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