Monday, May 1, 2017

Mattel's Toy Box

Having worked with the professional toy inventing community for a good part of my industry career, I have been mystified and underwhelmed by Mattel putting its product selection process on prime time TV in a show called, The Toy Box. We know that some reality TV is far from reality. Often such shows are highly staged, low voltage productions with marginal entertainment value. Mattel may have thought it was getting a Shark Tank for kids. Rather than a junior Shark Tank, Mattel is capitalizing on the dreams of "toymakers", aka inventors, in a simulated product section contest that is poorly constructed, overly scripted, and almost painful to watch.
In the real world, each toy company searching for the next mega-hit, has its own unique process to gather, judge, and select new opportunities to fit existing lines and align with a company's current  market read. Traditionally, sifting through inventor ideas has been committee affairs with sales, marketing, development and other senior management staff agreeing collectively which new product ideas to embrace. Whereas getting an idea licensed may be nerve wracking for inventors, it is a huge financial gamble when a marketer attempts to launch the next toy fad.

The Toy Box show takes Mattel's bizarre selection process public as broadcast entertainment rather than serious product business. They apparently feel it is time for precocious youngsters rather than experienced adult toy people to chose what should be in future toy boxes. Choosing new ideas has always been something of a "shark tank" with the better opportunity eliminating others based on sound business judgment. Presumably, Mattel feels its well rehearsed youthful Toy Box panel of 7 to 13 year olds represents ultimate consumers. Certainly the kids are not  prepared to consider serious development, costing, sales, and marketing questions common to the real world. It was amusing to me when one panelist following the script asked the anxious toymaker, "What will this idea cost?"

On another media stage, technology has entered the new toy and game selection process. Kickstarter and other crowd funding venues have become sites where new ideas are viewed by millions of eyeballs. Backers give early financial support when a pitch video hits their WOW buttons and they "gotta have the idea". Increasingly, toy marketers (Mattel included} are watching for those Kickstarter successes that can become licensed product and taken to the retail marketplace.

Whatever the selection process, be it adult committees, actors on broadcast TV, or Kickstarter pitches, hopefully toy inventors continue to bring forth and license unique and innovative ideas to industry marketers to fill future toy boxes. There is a saying in the industry, "Product is king".  Toy inventors with their product ideas have long been active and vital kingmakers.

For a more detailed critique of The Toy Box Show by Blurred Reality, go to this link:
As the show labors on with additional episodes, viewers will likely be left with the unanswered question: What was Mattel thinking by shinning network TV time on this laborious product selection process???

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Donald Trump THEN and NOW

All ostriches and every human being in the world know that Donald J. Trump was elected in the fourth quarter of 2016 as the forty-fifth POTUS. However,  its likely that only elderly board game consumers and intense followers of the toy and game industry know that Trump licensed his likeness on two board games. Both were marketed by Hasbro game divisions,; Milton Bradley in the late 80s and Parker Brothers in the early 2000s.

By the most important measure of a game's success, SALES at retail, DJT's appearance on the Milton Bradley initial version could not elevate consumers interest above, "just OK". And compared to a measure of marketplace longevity against such classics as Life, Monopoly, Scrabble, CandyLand, etc., Trump The Game was  a yaw!

A hardened sales rep, who at the time was not meeting management sales quotas for the game was heard to say, "It would be great if Trump was better known west of the Hudson River!" My, my, how times have changed! NOW Trump is well known far, far beyond the Hudson to all rivers in the USA. In fact, by any measure, Trump is a global celebrity!

Through the courtesy of the Springfield, MA Republican newspaper that covered Trump's only visit to the Pioneer Valley ever, on May 4, 1989, the following photos show DJT at his initial launch into the game world.  I remember the hub-bub on that day in East Longmeadow, MA where the game was manufactured. The future POTUS THEN made an auspicious appearance when he dropped from the skies in his personal chopper. No one would ever have envisioned THEN that NOW he would be dropping from the skies in Air Force One!

Donald's Chopper is The Only Aircraft to Ever Land on Company Grounds

Donald Disembarks With Coiffure Disheveled by Chopper Blades

Adoring Milton BradleyEmployees Gather to Create a Huge Welcoming Crowd

President of Milton Bradley Co., and Future President of USA, Donald J. Trump

Trump Poses with Stacks of Newly Minted Games Ready for Shipment

Trump Gives a Pitch on How his Game Will be the Next Monopoly

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Thankful Toy and Game Inventor

At a time when so many seem aggrieved and ungrateful for their lot in life, it is truly refreshing to see that my co-author and long time friend, Richard C. Levy, took time at Thanksgiving to express in a Toy Book piece how thankful he is to be a toy and game industry participant. It would be very easy for Richard to direct thanks inward for all he has gained from his very active 38-year career creating and licensing so many successes.

But no, his message of thanks was in large part targeted at the many companies that stepped up and took his creative nuggets and invested resources to bring those ideas to market. And he directed gratitude at the corporate staffs who unselfishly contributed their skills to make his good ideas better.

Richard's message included acknowledgement of his lasting relationships forged with so many colleagues in the independent inventing community. Those colleagues may work in anonymity, but they ultimately are collectively bound to an industry that relies so heavily on their inventive skills to replenish new product offerings year after year.

Perhaps it was the beginning of another holiday season that got Richard to resonate his good fortune to have a career in such an entrepreneurial industry. It was clear to me that he has an unbound love for the toy industry, the people and companies that make it work, and the great country that nurtures so many marketers. As I read Richard's message, I became thankful for my small part of what he described so eloquently in his article. The link to the full Toy Book article is below:

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Getting Larry Some Gold

Robert Laura wrote an article in Forbes about the "gold watch" as a gratuitous symbol of 30 or 40 years employment with the same employer. He noted the time piece gift tradition originated "in the 1940s with Pepsi Company when gold was $34 an ounce versus today's market price hovering around $1350." Laura also pointed out that in those bygone days, people stayed with a company "three or four decades as opposed to current employment longevity which averages a mere four to five years.

One profession where the gold watch standard should remain in vogue is the professional toy and game inventing business. A surprising number of the legendary inventors certainly meet the criterion of sustained dedication to their job of creating new playthings. One example is Larry Jones, founder and driving force behind Westlake Village, CA based Cal R&D Center. Jones is nearing five decades in the business since he opened a studio in the 70s using his industrial design talents to license new toys to industry marketers.

Says Jones, "I founded the Center on the premise that kid's toys should challenge their curiosity as they provide entertainment while creating smiles and laughter. I liked the idea that my working with toys was all about play which meant to create them, we could play 99 percent of the time. At Cal R&D, I have followed the words of Mark Twain who once said, "in all of his vast experience, he had never seen one shred of evidence anywhere that supports the notion that life is serious." " I've woven that thinking of not always being serious into my business of inventing new playthings."

The state of California has always been a hotbed for toy invention and Cal R&D has been a key stop for knowledgeable toy marketers in search of the next mega-hit. That relationship between Cal R&D and toy industry marketers has resulted in an avalanche of new playthings. Jones estimates that he has licensed some 350 products and been granted well over 80 patents. Among his successes were Cricket, the Animated Doll, Micronauts, which lived in the world of action figures, Data Race mini-auto racers, Microvision, the first interchangeable game cartridge system for hand held games , and Bucky the Wonder Horse, a long time favorite of preschoolers.

Jones remains actively searching for the next fad toy whether the result of his own "out of the box" thinking or in partnership with other inventors. He has adjusted to the many changes in the industry over his five decades in toys, games, and start-ups. He has also branched out into other industries that are welcoming to inventors and has found success particularly with confection marketers. Jones offers much advice in three books he has published on the topic of invention. His quick tip to inventors hoping to find success today is..."Everyday you wake up, you may get advice that is different! But the simple truth is that you must be very active and learn all you can about the industry and its people. Keep learning! The more you learn, the more times you will hit the target's bulls-eye with your ideas."

In an industry that touts "product is king", independent inventors have long been kingmakers as they originated all those new products. Those toiling using the strengths of their creativity for three, four, and in Jones' case nearly five decades deserve a little gold be it a watch or some other special trinket. Perhaps the Toy Industry Association should reinstitute the old tradition of the Pepsi Company and recognize the longevity of a special group of toy inventors. The industry would have been a much less dynamic business without them.

Slow News Day in Western Massachusetts

Newspapers today have the difficult job finding "all the news fit to print" to fill their pages for readers who like home delivery. Now with the advent of digital news, they have the added need to fill the screens of their subscribers who like delivery on electronic gadgetry.

The need for news by MassLive, the Springfield Republicans digital feed got me a slot about, The Toy and Game Inventor' Handbook and my former career with Milton Bradley and Hasbro Games. I loved the headline reference grounding me as a "former Longmeadow resident", the idyllic suburban community which is home to many Springfield area doctors, lawyers, Mass Mutual execs, and one or two Cartimundi managers (current owners of the former Milton Bradley manufacturing facility in East Longmeadow, MA). Longmeadow was a wonderful place to live while I worked at MB, Hasbro Games, and wrote the Handbook.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Play for the Millenials

In the mid-1980s, there was a category of extremely popular games that enjoyed brisk annual sales. Those games were recognized in the industry by several different names; party games, social interaction games, conversation in a box, or most fittingly, adult games. This boxed entertainment targeted baby boomers over the age of fifteen with game play intended for social gatherings of adult friends. Contents, theme, and play structure were aimed at adult interests. One of the most popular games of that era was Scruples.

No other inventor capitalized on the popularity of this category more than Brian Hersch. His LA based studio seemed to originate hit after hit after hit including Outburst, Taboo, Oodles, SongBurst, ScrutinEyes, Mad Chatter, Malarky, and others. Hersch and Company was the creative drive behind Platinum editions of Taboo, Outburst, and Scattergories in the 90s.

Says Hersch, "Our adult party creations were lubrication for rusty social skills. Some games were filled with edgy, often naughty fun for baby boomers. I got several reports where trade buyers asked the marketers to make some tweaks in content before placing big orders. Any new game had to get through a buyer before it could reach end consumers so on occasion the final edit was done by a very unlikely source!"

Whether because of buying choice saturation or the re-emergence of rust to baby boomers' social skills, the adult category seemed to plateau. But enter the millennial players today whose game interests have changed dramatically as evidenced by the recent popularity of Cards Against Humanity. Brian Hersch, always the "marketing-meister",  has observed the emergence of this new demand for liberal game content. He is launching a very adult content based variant of Outburst on Kickstarter, called Midnight Outburst. Game geeks may see some of the same physical game components as original Outburst, but the content is giving the millennials the type of edgy play they want in social adult games.

Hersch concludes, "This generation is discovering just how well a game can facilitate social interaction. Millennials do not have the past sensitivities to language and content, and they certainly want content free of the meddling edits by conservative trade game buyers!"

Friday, August 5, 2016

Our Handbook Makes Forbes "Best"!

This blog post contains some unexpected and exciting news about The Toy and Game Inventor's Handbook. Richard C.Levy and I always hoped that the Handbook, when originally released by Penguin/Random House as a How-To or Self-Help book, would be acclaimed as a compendium of topics important to novice inventors with dreams of creating breakout toys and to anyone active in the toy industry. Now available on Amazon in it's 3rd edition as an e-book, our hopes have been confirmed by an unexpected source. The Handbook has been selected as #2 on Forbes List of Best Books recommended by 2016 Shark Tank Entrepreneurs.

Forbes List link:

Forbes asked those Shark Tank entrepreneurs to recommend some good reads about business and the key takeaways. An example of strong support for the Handbook came from Mark and Lisa Burginger, founders of Qubits Toy, IncThe Buringer's said, "Two toy industry veterans offer an authoritative guide to toy and game licensing, providing everything an inventor needs to know about bringing a concept to market. This book is chock-full of real world examples. inspires by example and teaches you to trust yourself and your instincts. One of many important tips is to remain a kid at heart and never give up and never grow up."

Those of you that have downloaded the Handbook already, thanks. If you have an idea for the next hot toy or game, this book is a blueprint for that possible leap to the market.. Or if you're just looking for a good book to read, the Handbook contains some fascinating and charming history of the toys and games that were a part of all our lives.