Toymakers look to 80s, apps and Facebook for hits

Sun Feb 12, 2012 5:14pm EST
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By Dhanya Skariachan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Coming off a year in which U.S. toy sales fell 2 percent, toymakers and buyers at the 109th American Toy Fair in New York are looking for the elusive runaway hit that failed to materialize in 2011.

The industry has reached back to the past hoping Ninja turtles and caring stuffed bears from the 1980s, accessories that play with the hottest gadgets of today and a cuddly dog that has scored fame on Facebook, will turn around flagging sales this year.

"Although the down economy still presents many challenges, at the end of the day, kids will always want the latest and greatest toys. Technology and value will continue to be key factors in purchasing decisions," Jeremy Padawer, EVP of Marketing for Jakks Pacific Inc.

In 2011, gadgets like iPads and smartphones were top consumer sellers, and toy companies big and small are betting on "AppCessories," playthings that come to life when hooked up to popular devices such as Apple Inc's iPad, iPhone and iPod, to woo tech-savvy kids who have grown up playing on their parents' smartphones or their own gaming consoles.

"It's a nice way to bridge the generation gap because a lot of these games are games that adults are going to have fun playing too," said Adrienne Appell, toy trends specialist with the Toy Industry Association, which runs the four-day toy fair and expects more than 33,000 people. That is up almost 4 percent from last year.

For example, Mattel Inc showed off its "Apptivity" line. It included many items such as the Hot Wheels Apptivity Car that allows kids to use iPads as race tracks. Mattel said a special anti-scratch technology on the vehicle ensures iPad screen surfaces go unscathed.

"In keeping with today's tech-savvy families, this new category merges physical toy play with tablets," said Chuck Scothon, senior vice president of marketing at Mattel's North America unit.

Hasbro Inc has its "zAPPed" gaming platform. Privately held rivals such as Spin Master, Crayola, WowWee and Discovery Bay also had offerings in the appCessories arena.   Continued...