Observations of a toy industry survivor

It?s that time of year when the toy industry in the UK shows its wares to the press to maximise Christmas coverage.
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And, once again in 2011, a US example of how the indie trade is launching a campaign in the holiday season caught my eye.

Toy stores in the US will be ‘celebrating the joy of play’ with the launch of Neighbourhood Toy Store Day on November 12th when members of ASTRA (The American Specialty Toy Retailers Association) will hold special events at its stores.

“ASTRA is committed to putting information about the specialty toy difference in the hands of consumers,” said Kathleen McHugh, president of ASTRA and there is even a website designed to give consumers a quick and easy way to find out about this year’s Neighbourhood Toy Store Day and to learn about the quality of specialty toys and the reasons for shopping at an independent toy store. It also links to ASTRA’s Best Toys for Kids site and ASTRA’s main website.

Is there a lesson there for UK toy retailers? US specialty stores use the event to give them a competitive advantage over the likes of Wal-Mart and even TRU which, although a specialist, is a truly national, multiple threat. While UK Christmas press events successfully generate mounds of publicity, it is skewed towards the most advertised products that are almost universally stocked by the biggest retailers.

While we might be able to learn from some US toy industry marketing angles, it is nice to see one American multi-national tailoring its approach for the UK with two TV ads from Mattel specifically made for our market to strengthen and extend British girls' relationships with Barbie by focusing on the brand rather than on individual toys.

It is a little odd that the American marketeers have taken so long to do this. We may be two nations with similar toy habits, but we remain very much divided by the same language.

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