Star turns

We find out what it takes to turn toys into TV stars and ask: could an appearance on a top show be the most valuable form of toy PR?
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Seeing toys on the TV is not a new development. Spirograph demos went down a storm in the ‘60s, and Blue Peter took toy/TV relations to another level with the sticky-back plastic and yoghurt pot-tastic build-your-own Tracey Island in the ‘90s.

But in these high-technological times, with the web and social media connecting people on an unprecedented level, if the right toy is on the right show at the right time, things can go viral.

Simply put, a well-judged TV appearance can provide the spark that ignites the buzz around a product, creating a potent PR mix that can ensure a healthy spike in sales, or better yet: turn a toy into a blockbuster product overnight.

For toy companies, creating such a perfect storm of publicity is a hard task, but it is possible. In a series of case studies we talk to some of the PR firms and toy companies which have caused the biggest stirs on the box in the past 12 months, and find out what it takes to turn toys into TV stars.

And for retailers, it might be worth keeping an eye on the box to make sure you catch the next big thing, as it happens. For that reason, we also provide you with a comprehensive guide to the programmes showing
off toys.


Of all the toys to have made their way onto the small screen in the past 12 months, one stands out. Doggie Doo.

Last September this pooping pooch from John Adams went prime time, demonstrating his unique talents to celebrity guests and approximately 4.5 million viewers on The Jonathan Ross Show. The results were big.

“We were inundated with tweets and discussion was widespread within the blogosphere,” recalls Louise Hathaway, account director at Norton and Company, John Adams’ PR firm. Hathaway continues: “It can be worth thousands of pounds in brand exposure and is an exceptionally powerful medium. Viewers get to see the product and if you have great interaction with the host or presenter then you can experience almost instant results.”

The buzz helped earn Doggie Doo a spot in the 2011 Dream Dozen at Dream Toys a month later and was one of NPD’s top ten most valuable toys in November, ensuring further media coverage. At the TRA event, one John Adams exec let slip to ToyNews that sales of the toy had increased tenfold since the appearance.


When it comes to securing TV spots three crucial ingredients are required, says Hathaway: “Great contacts, a fantastic product to work with and a lot of tenacity.”

The all-important product, “should be quirky to stand out, and something that can be demonstrated to comic effect is helpful.”

Doggie Doo has what it takes. Its simple talent was demonstrable, funny and a perfect match for the show and Ross’ sense of humour – and the joke wasn’t lost on the public either.

Hathaway explains: “Kids love poo. And, so it would seem, toilet humour never dies. The producer for The Jonathan Ross Show was looking for something that kept viewers tuned in.

“That is the challenge of PR – to make something relevant to an audience and to spot that opportunity before it arises.”

Doggie Doo and its quirky take on responsible dog ownership appears to have done the trick.

Simon Pilkington, managing director of John Adams, comments: “The consumer response to the prime time appearance of Doggie Doo on The Jonathan Ross Show was exceptional when combined with being listed in
the Dream Toys Dream Dozen, which also generated very significant levels of publicity.

“Demand outstripped supply in the run up to Christmas and now Doggie Doo looks set to be a staple kids action game for some years to come.”


Last year Wow Stuff’s top Christmas lines, Air Swimmers and My Keepon, appeared on the likes of The Jonathan Ross Show, The Gadget Show, The One Show, Friday Download and many more – not to mention a host of top US shows. So how does the company go about getting all that air time for its products?

“Our team carefully researches the products’ target audience and then identifies suitable TV programmes that match the profile,” says boss Richard North (right). “We then ignore all that and just call up the contacts we have in TV and beg for a favour.”

That approach seems to have paid dividends as the firm secured a double whammy of coverage for both Air Swimmers and My Keepon on The Jonathan Ross Show, with the former earning a personal endorsement from the presenter himself.

“The Jonathan Ross Show was a fantastic slot for us because our toys appeal to adults and children alike,
so getting seen on prime time TV on a Saturday night was perfect,” North enthuses.

To seal the deal, the Wow Stuff team had to put the work in with the show’s researchers, explaining the toys’ features and being in a constant dialogue.

“Without revealing too many trade secrets, let’s just say it took weeks of work to pull it off. Having Jonathan as a customer and friend of the company didn’t hurt,” explains North.

“TV gives you mass exposure and that combined with great PR and marketing makes a winning formula,” he says. “I have always had a fondness for the excitement that PR can generate and I think the nature of the toy business lends itself well to this form of marketing.

“TV shows want something eye catching and entertaining which sums up everything Wow Stuff is about – if it hasn't got that wow factor, then it’s not a Wow Stuff line.”


ThumbsUp’s Dancing Cat Speaker, a plush toy that boogies to the tune of any MP3 player, was featured on The Gadget Show in an Energizer Bunny-style battery test last Christmas.

“We worked with the research team to provide 20 Dancing Cat Speakers to appear in a test feature for batteries,” explains Leonie Martin, senior account manager from Talk PR, representatives for ThumbsUp.

The impact was instant: “In the weeks following the show, sales of the Dancing Cat Speaker increased tenfold, with a substantial traffic spike on December 5th – the day the show aired. Analysing the success of this exposure is an essential part of the process and through this, we can also prioritise key shows with a track record in generating consumer interest. For example, we know exposure on ITV’s This Morning regularly results in a flurry of interest. Our client experienced a 30 per cent traffic spike after its R/C Super Cars appeared on the show in June last year.”

Martin explains how communication is vital: “The key to working with shows is to maintain regular and appropriate communication with the research teams and ensure you’re up-to-date with the format they wrap the show around.

“Be topical in your approach, remembering the classic calendar dates, but also mindful of other stories that grab the nation’s attention and be relevant to your offering. For example, an unexpected bout of hot weather may result in an outdoor games feature or a new spy movie might encourage a piece about the latest under-cover gadgets.”



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