MICROSOFT RIDES BARNEY TO TOY FAIR; PART OF A NEW LINE: HIGH-TECH AND LICENSING ARE HOT, BUT TIE-INS WORRY RETAILERS

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Microsoft Corp. will appear at the American International Toy Fair for the first time, introducing its 16-inch plush, purple ActiMates Interactive Barney the Dinosaur.

The toy, which wiggles and boasts a 2,000-word vocabulary, also can be plugged directly into a PC to sing along with accompanying CD-ROM software.

Campbell Mithun Esty, Minneapolis, is creating a TV and print campaign to support a full line of ActiMates playthings, to hit retail nationwide in September. Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., will handle media for the estimated $15 million to $20 million campaign.

INTERACTIVE INVASION

Microsoft's line is just one of a slew of new software and interactive toys for kids as a record number of high-tech marketers descend on the annual show in New York.

Lego will introduce its first CD-ROM, and Hasbro Interactive Worldwide plans to introduce more computer versions of classic board games.

The toy industry is expected to grow 8% to 10% this year to $22 billion, excluding computer software and videogames. Analysts are warning, however, that overkill in licensed products is putting many marketers at risk.

"The year is front-loaded with toys tied to blockbuster movies, and it's making retailers wary. There's too much at once," said Sean McGowan, a toy analyst with Gerard Klauer Mattison.

The re-release of George Lucas' "Star Wars" film trilogy has inspired fresh toys from Hasbro and its sister division, Kenner, along with rival licensee Galoob Toys.

Dozens of marketers are pumping forth new collectibles and toy vehicles tied to Warner Bros.' "Batman & Robin." And Walt Disney Co.'s animated film "Hercules" carries a huge list of licensees including Mattel.

DISCOVERING 'LOST WORLD'

The "Jurassic Park" sequel, "Lost World," is sparking a line from Hasbro, and Tyco Toys and Toy Biz also are producing toys based on the Steven Spielberg film, along with about 70 other licensees (see story on Page 1).

Industry insiders say the much-hyped "Hercules" is drawing tepid response from retail buyers. McDonald's Corp. has a fast-food promotional tie-in with the film this spring, thanks to its exclusive 10-year promotional deal with Disney.

Playmates is launching new toys tied to "Star Trek," and there's a full line of characters tied to the relaunch later this year of the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

Dolls are expected to enjoy a resurgence. Mattel is showing a squishy talking Tommy doll based on the lead character in Nickelodeon's cable TV hit "Rugrats."

Mattel's Barbie is expected to score another hit with its new Dentist Barbie, complete with realistic dental tools. Barbie also will appear as Marilyn Monroe

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