Saturday, May 28, 2016

A Very Special Toy Inventor

Ralph Baer, inventor of Hasbro's Simon, the widely popular electronic memory game introduced in 1979, passed in 2014. While some may remember him as the creator of Simon, the world will remember him as the "Father of the Video Game". It is likely that title got the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American History to make Ralph and his workshop part of their national story and a focal point of the Year of Innovation in the Museum's Innovation Wing.

Ralph has good company in the Museum among the likes of SC Johnson, inventor of the Ziplock Brand bag, Kirk Christiansen, inventor of the Lego block, Clarence L. Fender, inventor of the electric guitar, Earl Tupper, inventor of Tupperware, and of course, Thomas Alva Edison, inventor of the incandescent electric lamp.

Longtime industry friends, Richard and Sheryl Levy made a recent visit to the Smithsonian to view the tribute to Ralph. It made Richard recall the day speaking with Ralph on the phone when the Smithsonian was at Ralph's home in Manchester, New Hampshire collecting elements for the  Museum exhibit. "They are collecting everything that is not nailed down," whispered Ralph into the phone. "I have some stuff hidden under the staircase so they don't take everything."

"You cannot miss the Smithsonian exhibit" reports Richard. "It is the first exhibit you see as you enter the West Wing. Without doubt, the Smithsonian curators put tremendous value on Ralph's contributions to American innovation." And consumers to this day continue to see the unique play value in Ralph's Simon game nearly forty years after its introduction.

Phil Orbanes, Vice Chairman of Winning Moves Games, remembers Ralph as "a down-to-earth genius". Orbanes met him the year after Simon exploded onto the games' scene. "Unlike so many boastful inventors, Baer took success in stride and treated everyone he met as an equal." Speaking of Ralph's inventive skills, Orbanes said, "Once he got an idea, he could build it. In the early years that meant using a soldering iron to create the circuitry. But in time, he taught himself to program EPROMs (chips) and even build plastic cases and related parts to see his concepts come to life. He was an inventing marvel. Nothing deterred his enthusiasm for a new idea."

Originally a native New Englander, Ralph spent months in his later years in the land of the Sunshine Santas (that concentration of inventor talent in south Florida), where he was able to visit frequently with the Levys and discuss among other things the state of the toy industry, and of course, invention.

Ralph was among some 80 professional toy and game inventors we profiled with their personal advice and tips in the The Toy and Game Inventors Handbook. You can see his pithy remarks in that publication.

If the Smithsonian exhibit in D.C. doesn't work for your travel schedule, you can see Ralph's work memorialized at The Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, NY.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Toy Industry Jargon

Every industry has its own jargon. When businesses communicate, they often intersperse acronyms and words inherent to their specific industry. Most likely, an industry's jargon may be so limited in use that the words do not appear in an authoritative language reference like the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

In The Toy and Game Inventor's Handbook, we included a glossary of 475 words that we felt were common and basic to the toy industry. Since we are in a "fun" business, we took the liberty to write definitions more playful and whimsical than those that would meet the stringent standards of dictionary editors. Here are several examples of industry jargon. Our definitions are in italics:

Dog: (with all respect to the ASPCA and my beloved 16 year old Tibetan Terrier, Denver, who is one sweet dog)
A product that's dead at retail

Lawyers: (guardians of the industry)
The only people who consistently make money and turn a profit

Yawn: (a bad omen signaled by the viewer during an inventor's pitch)
A boring product idea 

I recently came up with a new word, "inventortainment". To me the word characterizes inventor pitch time in today's world now that showing a new idea is often broadcast to marketers/backers on video screens versus former confidential one-on-one private meetings between inventors and company representatives.

Inventortainment is not yet part of the toy industry jargon. But someday, if the word gains widespread  "toyspeak", it may even reach a place in those authoritative consumer dictionaries. After all, every year, Merriam-Webster adds hundreds of newly minted words and acronyms that have gained popular usage in the English language.

So if you help to "jargonize" my word around the toy business, it may pass the high standards of dictionary editors. Here is the full definition: inventortainment: (n) an inventor's pitch effort of an innovative concept to marketers or backers in hopes of gaining a licensing agreement or the financial support to commercially develop the proprietary idea.

A sincere "thank you" if you add my new word to your jargon.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What is Inventortainment?

"Life's a Pitch"!! That's the title of Chapter 7 in The Toy and Game Inventor's Handbook (Inventors Handbook) where we advise readers on "how to" license ideas to toy industry marketers. Inventors hope that their idea is the next mega-hit and marketers hope for the next WOW! product that will leap off toy aisle shelves or through Amazon screens. When inventor meets marketer to show a new idea, it's "pitch time", but oh my, how the modus operandi in toy world today has changed.

At one time, the traditional inventor new idea pitch was done across a table in a face-to-face meeting. Inventors would come to a company's offices or the company would send emissaries to the inventor's place of business. A hands-on demo was de rigueur. But with the emergence of new media techniques and with detached global licensing participants often viewing a pitch, digital demos are more common. Skype, Face Time, video conferencing, or a private channel YouTube video all make the inventor-marketer contact impersonal. What was once a very confidential and private pitch has become widely disclosed on screens everywhere.

Add to this paradigm shift in new product pitch time the broad, public screen exposure of concepts on Shark Tank, Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and the like. In fact, a You Tube pitch often gets archived to become a basic form of consumer promotion when the product is marketed. Check out Swingy Thing Pitch.

Yet the inventor's goal remains the same; to secure a license or financial backing that gets the idea to market. Today, the pitch has become, in some cases, a form of entertainment for a wide populous of viewers. Pitch time has become show time. The inventor and idea are on center stage providing a unique form of inventortainment to an influential audience that can make or break the future of the new idea. Today, we can add inventortainment to toy industry jargon.