Spoilt for choice?

In his inaugural column, ToyTalk owner and editor, David Smith, looks at the vast array of new toys released each year from a consumer point-of-view.
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One of the bits of wisdom that you pick up as you get older (and one that seems particularly unfathomable to children) is that you can have too much of a good thing.

It doesn’t seem logical, but we gradually come to realise that just because you like something, more of it isn’t automatically a good idea. Economists call this the law of diminishing returns, but it’s easier to understand in terms of ice cream.

We love that first bowl of ice cream and the second may be quite nice as well, but a third? Even though it’s exactly the same thing, it can suddenly make you feel queasy just looking at it.

This premise holds true across a wide variety of situations and it obviously applies to toys as well. Everyone knows that giving a child too many toys will spoil them, and that word, ‘spoil’, isn’t lightly chosen.

Dutiful parents and relatives are careful not to buy too many toys for their little angels (lest they become little devils), so they have to carefully sift through the options to come to a final decision on what to buy.

This is far from easy. The problem isn’t just that there are so many toys to choose from, the problem is the dizzying array of new toys that are constantly being added. Every year the toy industry inundates us with thousands of new products. And I just don’t think it’s necessary.

In any industry, it’s the new releases that attract the most attention, from new cars to new phones to new books. In the same way, it’s the newest arrivals in the toy industry that grab headlines and create excitement.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with releasing new toys, and painstaking research has revealed that kids are generally in favour of the concept as well. Nor do I think the quality of toys is being diluted by quantity. Every January at London’s Toy Fair I’m amazed at the great new ideas that have materialised since the previous year’s event. (I’m amazed also at the stamina of the PR people who are able to inform me in great detail about each and every one of their client’s 38 brand new products.)

But there are just so many that even I struggle to keep up – and it’s my job. At the same time I’m aware that for many of these new launches, all the effort that has gone in has not provided the desired amount of excitement.

Because so many new toys are released each year, many launches are somewhat muted by the hundreds of other new toys scrambling for attention.

For smaller companies, this might mean real trouble. For larger companies it means that some lines won’t perform as well as expected because they didn’t grab the public’s attention quickly enough before something newer appeared to entice them away.

I believe that the end result of this is that lots of good toys are failing to get the attention they deserve, and I think that’s a genuine shame. I think that if the number of new releases each year was cut, more toys would have a chance of making an impact.

It might seem a bit strange for someone in my position to be calling for fewer new toys each year but really, you can have too much of a good thing.

David Smith runs the consumer-focused toy news site ToyTalk (www.toytalk.co.uk) and is the author of the book 100 Classic Toys.

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