Play Is Big Business at the Toy Fair

Opening of the Toy Industry Association's 109th American International Toy Fair
Bigger, better, and more expensive toys are in the forecast for this year.

A slate of hot new toy trends for 2012 that keep pace with advancements in the tech world, mirror societal trends, and aim to produce well-rounded, lifelong learners are being unveiled by the Toy Industry Association (TIA) at its 109th American International Toy Fair. The fair – the largest toy trade show in the Western Hemisphere – is expected to draw more than 34,000 toy lovers from 110 countries.

After scouring through 100,000+ products on display at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York City, TIA’s trend experts have laid out a fresh crop of trends that will connect with, teach, and hopefully hit a high note with kids of all ages. Significant for 2012 is a resurgence of toys on the higher end of the price scale as well as an influx of educational toys for tots, indicating that post-recession wallets – and families – are expanding.

“Toymakers continue to innovate at the speed of light to keep up with trends in other areas – from pop culture to technology – because they know that kids want to be a part of the mix and mimic what’s happening in the world around them,” said Adrienne Appell, TIA’s in-house trend expert. “The toy industry draws upon economic and birth rate data to determine price points and product lines, which accounts for the prevalence this year of big-ticket items and toys for infants and pre-school children.” Appell made the comments during a “Toy Trends Tea” hosted by TIA – owner and operator of Toy Fair and official voice of the toy industry.

Whan to know what the kids will be clamoring for this year? The six top trends are …

Generation App

An emerging trend identified at Toy Fair 2011, this year there is an abundance of toys that work with smart devices and apps. Toymakers are using technology to enhance classic play patterns – not erase them. Physical toys remain integral to the play experience; in many cases, companies have created traditional toys that interact with popular devices that are already in so many homes, while tying in educational or active components for a well-rounded play experience. This includes products that work with an app, or smart devices and products that are based upon an app or web property but have no digital tie-in.

Glowing Wild

Toys that glow in the dark or light up will infiltrate the toy aisle this year across multiple categories – from outdoor and active toys to arts and crafts and creative products. Toys in this category add a fantastical element to playtime for kids of all ages. They “ignite” imaginative play by drawing kids into a world of whimsy and wonder – from arts and crafts toys that incorporate LED components to exciting light-up toys that safely simulate fireworks. Included are toys that rely on a glow component to drive the play experience and toys that are equally enjoyable in the light of day as they are in the dark (i.e. glow-in-the-dark wooden building blocks).

Little Learners

Far from simple “watch me” toys, products in this category build cognitive and developmental skills beginning at a very early age, transforming little ones into well-rounded, lifelong learners. These toys also give tykes a wide range of play options to choose from, allowing them to explore their interests and talents and develop these skills as they grow older.

Many Ways To Play!

Toys in this category engage kids on multiple levels. Parents can buy one very dynamic toy that will entertain and educate a child for hours, days, weeks, and months, allowing them to truly get their money’s worth. These toys have real depth – kids can play differently each time depending on their moods or interests. Many of these toys also grow with a child so that they can play in another way depending on their age.

Save N Splurge

Recent toy industry data released by The NPD Group showed that consumers are increasingly making “purchasing trade-offs” – that is, buying higher-priced toys at the expense of mid- to lower-priced ones. As a result, 2012 will see a resurgence of toys that fall on the higher end of the price spectrum, as consumers are willing to loosen their purse strings a bit and spend more on products that pack a high play value punch or have a certain “WOW” factor. However, shoppers will always be attracted to affordable prices. Affordability was a trend in the past few years and this sub-trend will persist in 2012 as parents and other shoppers have really come to expect big play value at affordable prices.

Young Maestros

A wide variety of musical toys will hit a high note in 2012 as kids of all ages – from infants to tweens and teens – rock out with toys and games that teach them how to play different instruments, practice their singing, or show off their dance moves. This trend is being driven largely by pop culture – such as television shows like American Idol, Glee, The Voice, and X Factor.

The Toy Industry Association also tracks a broad range of ongoing cross-sector trends, such as toys celebrating significant anniversaries; entertainment properties that span blockbuster movies or brands; and re-emergences of nostalgic characters loved by past generations.

“In 2011, licensed toys represented 26% of total industry sales, and with a slate of family-friendly movies hitting the theaters in the coming months, there will be a steady stream of new content tied to entertainment and licensing properties throughout 2012,” said Appell.