Over the last few weeks the stories started circulating. It’s that time of year when all the toy retailers and a few dubious toy experts put out press releases touting which toys are the ones that “all the kids” will want this Christmas.
These lists are all bogus. Some of them are no more than lists of toys that the toymakers pay the listmakers to include on their lists. Others are lists of what the retailers hope will be hot toys because they’ve over-ordered them.
None of these lists are the result of serious market research to determine what kids want. Lists like these are a component of the marketing campaign for the toy companies. That the same toys show up on different lists is just proof of how much money the toy company budgeted for promotion. At least Lego has the decency to promote a different construction set with each retailer.
This is an annual dance, the cynical exploitation of a less-than-vigilant media. It’s easier to just report on the press releases, and maybe show one of the “experts” who work for publications that don’t actually exist, but who somehow wind up on every news channel.
Last year the folks behind the plastic loom bracelets bought their way onto every list. If you didn’t know better, you’d think that every kid in the country was holding their breath until they got their rubber-band bracelet maker. As it turns out, this was a fad that didn’t have the shelf life of Pogs. You can find that plastic-band loom stuff in the deep clearance section of stores now, right next to all that Duck Dynasty merchandise.
This year several toys from the big toy companies like Mattel, Lego and Hasbro are on the list. Oddly enough, some of them aren’t in stores yet, and have not been advertised to kids. Yet these lists say children are clamoring for them. There are also a lot of toys that sold last year, so the retailers ordered even more this year.
This year’s safe bets are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Frozen toys, Lego sets and Monster High. Those were the best-sellers last year, and while it’s not Earth-shattering news, these items are the most honest reporting that you’ll find on these lists. Toy sales are a lot like the weather. There’s a fifty percent chance that what sold last year will still sell this year.
It’s when you get to the specific products on these lists that things get suspicious. Skylanders Trap Team is a new spin on Activision’s aging Skylanders franchise. The Skylanders line has lost quite a bit of momentum this year, with competition from Disney Infinity and the novelty of their action figure/gaming system wearing off. It’s a bit curious that so many different Hot Toy lists include the same newly-freshened version of this declining product.
Likewise, while Hot Wheels is a constant seller, the Hot Wheels Street Hawk Remote Control Flying Car is a brand extension that most folks or kids are not aware of yet. Most folks think of the cool, small, die-cast toy cars when they hear “Hot Wheels.” The fact that Mattel uses that brand name for a whole line of remote control vehicles is not common knowledge. One reason for this is that most of their products, like this one, are simply copies of what Air Hogs released in previous years. To get the extra push, listmakers are persuaded to include this item among their “hot” toys.
The Zoomer Dino made the lists of all the major retailers. The reason is, at around a hundred bucks a pop, it could be a huge cash cow. This actually is a really cool toy that has lots of appeal to me, the childless adult who doesn’t own an iPad. However, whether or not kids like it is quite a gamble, especially at this price. The fact that robotic dinosaur toys tend not to sell at full price is not, for some reason, a deterrent to retailers who usually have toys like this marked down 60% by the summer after the holiday.
So you should be aware that most of what’s being pushed as “hot” toys in the media (even online–there are a lot of bogus websites pushing this stuff), is actually just a cynical marketing ploy that hopes parental laziness will drive customers to their stores to buy things that their kids don’t really want.
There’s really only one list of toys that you should lend any credence to this holiday season–the one you get from the child for whom you are buying the gift. They know what they want.
Or if you’re cheap you can get them a plastic loom band kit and some Duck Dynasty stuff.