TOY MARKETERS BANK ON LINKS TO SEASONAL FLICKS;WITH NO CLEAR SALES LEADER YET, DIVERSITY HOLDS KEY TO WINNING HOLIDAY SEASON

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No single toy has emerged as a runaway sales success for the holidays as yet, but it looks like a banner year for toymakers with products tied to major films.

"The Power Rangers have cooled off, and no single entity has filled the void," said C. Woody Browne, president of Building Q, a licensing/toy marketing consultancy.

That "means a lot of different marketers will cash in this year on diverse items," he said.

`DALMATIANS' HOT FOR MATTEL

Toy leader Mattel is experiencing some of its strongest pre-season sales ever for a line of playthings tied to the Nov. 22 release of Walt Disney Co.'s new live-action version of "101 Dalmatians," for which it's the master licensee.

A hot item for Mattel is Wizzer, a toy puppy based on a character in "101 Dalmatians," who "wets" a newspaper after drinking water from a bowl.

Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide and Foote, Cone & Belding, Los Angeles, share Mattel's $100 million-plus ad account.

Boys' action figures and toys tied to Warner Bros.' "Space Jam" are expected to ring up the biggest sales overall in the $20 billion toy category, analysts said.

Dozens of action figures from "Space Jam" are flying off store shelves, led so far by a $25 14-inch Talking Michael Jordan doll from Playmates.

A TV campaign is planned for the holidays, from Sachs, Finlay, Los Angeles.

Prospects are bright also for Tiger Electronics' talking, giant Turbo Man action figure, a replica of the toy Arnold Schwarzenegger chases throughout Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.'s "Jingle All the Way," which opens on Nov. 22.

Ads are planned for around the holidays, from Posnick & Kolker, New York.

`STAR TREK' VILLAINS SELLING WELL

Playmates is also expecting good results from 16 action figures and accessories based on Paramount Pictures Corp.'s "Star Trek: First Contact" film opening the same day. Figures based on the villains of the film, called the Borg, are getting excellent reception, Playmates said.

The marketer said a secret pro-duct, based on a starship to be revealed in the movie, will be released later this month.

Among non-movie-related pro-ducts, a new fad for girls is tiny teacup-themed toys and miniature dolls from a variety of smaller marketers.

The closest thing to a kids' toy hit is Beanie Babies, a collection of 73 different palm-size plush animals that have become the obsession of children under 8.

BEANIE BABIES

The unadvertised Beanie Babies have been gaining popularity steadily since their introduction in January 1994 by Ty Inc., which has employed a marketing strategy based on scarcity and limited distribution.

The company said it has no plans to expand distribution of the toys to mass merchandisers.

Mattel also expects record sales of its annual limited-edition Holiday Barbie, and just introduced its first Barbie-themed CD-ROM, a $40 package called "Barbie Fashion Designer.

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