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Top-sellers show how marketing toys has shifted to a more subconscious approach; As parents across Wales scour shops for this year's must-have toys, Richard Houdmont, director for Wales of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, explores how marketing campaigns can determine which present children will put top of their list to Father Christmas.

Byline: Richard Houdmont

Private sellers cash in on scarcity of stock Parents desperate to buy a popular toy hamster before Christmas could face disappointment after its distributor warned that demand was "far outstripping" its supplies.

Character Group said Go Go Pets - a range of "interactive hamsters" that squeak and scuttle across the floor - had become an "overnight success" in the UK this year.

The firm said sales of the toys are expected to see "explosive" growth throughout next year, but warned that demand for the product is "far outstripping our ability to satisfy ahead of Christmas".

The firm's website carries a message that says the Go Go Pets toys are out of stock.

The group's joint managing director Jon Diver said any extra stock would not be sold through the firm itself, but would go to retailers like Argos and Tesco.

He said media hype had pushed up demand to an "unbelievable level".

Go Go Pets are available online, with some private sellers hoping to cash-in on scarcity of stock by offering the pounds 9.99 hamsters for more than pounds 30. Mr Diver said retailers were limiting the number of toys per customer so that they could not be bought in bulk and sold at inflated prices on the internet.

"There is nothing really that we can do about it," he said.

He said he expects the firm will have sold between 600,000 and 700,000 of the toys by Christmas, with some of that stock still to be delivered.

Every Christmas, there are clear frontrunners in the race to become the top toys. Is this because products like Pokemon and Power Rangers are the better toys and have the latest gimmicks? Or is the popularity of such toys driven by successful marketing campaigns? Throughout the year, and even more so during the eight weeks before Christmas, toy manufacturers use a range of advertising, particularly during popular children's television programmes, to target children and indirectly their parents.

Targeting children directly through advertising with attractive branding, bright colours, fun music and cool characters will make them want the products. But, as children don't have money of their own they will pester their parents for the product. This is an incredibly influential way of targeting parents, as it puts them under pressure to ensure their children don't face disappointment on Christmas morning without the must-have toy under the tree.

Take the electronic pet, the Furby, as an example, which was the must-have item of the late 1990s. Developed by Dave Hampton, a former Mattel programmer and bought by Tiger Electronics, Furbies had the capabilities to interact with their owners and respond to their surroundings. During its launch, Tiger Electronics used a series of television adverts to promote the toy, showing the toy uttering words such as "Me love you" to highlight the toy's personality. Accompanied by the variety of colours on offer, their cuddly exteriors and the fact that they were marketed as an educational toy meant that it appealed to children of both genders and adults alike. As a result Tiger Electronics has sold more than 40 million of them.

Other huge fads of the '90s included Beanie Babies and Tamagotchis, which meant long waiting lists and sold-out toy stores as a result of marketing campaigns.

But the approach to marketing toys has shifted somewhat since the '90s, and this is demonstrated by this year's contenders to become the top-selling toys of 2009, from the likes of the Ben 10 Alien Creation Chamber and Transformers 2 Voyager Action Figures. Following in the footsteps of Disney and its merchandising empire, which achieved massive success with the release of its Buzz Lightyear toy from the film "Toy Story", toy manufacturers are creating products linked to films and TV shows, including Ben 10 and Transformers.

Instead of promoting a product solely through television advertising, integrated marketing is being used to further promote the products. The Transformers action figures, for example, can also be seen in the latest film and comic books, while Ben 10 captivates children's imaginations through its cartoon and online presence.Integrated marketing is even more influential than direct advertising, as children are engaging with their favourite characters and aspire to be like them, so it's a more subconscious approach to increasing desire for a toy or product. There is no denying that a successful marketing campaign can aid a toy in getting its "must-have" status, which goes to show how influential marketing to children can be. This power carries with it enormous responsibility making marketing to children a sensitive issue, similar to the promotion of alcohol and fast food, which highlights the importance and need for responsible marketing in the industry. The Chartered Institute of Marketing would like to see marketing become a licensed profession to give marketers the moral authority.

Until then as the main professional body for the marketing industry, the Institute encourages high standards of quality and integrity in the profession, through qualifications and continuing professional development. The Institute is the only body which can award Chartered Marketer status. Setting and maintaining standards within the industry is a key part of the Institute's work.

All our members are expected to adhere to our Code of Professional Practice, which requires marketers to be honest, legally compliant and up-to-date. Our Professional Marketing Standards provide a practical and sound framework defining the competencies required of marketing professionals at all levels, to help develop world-class benchmarks for best practice in our industry.

The role of the marketer could be seen in terms of connecting with stakeholders not only in terms of value, but in terms of values. In a world where intangible assets and corporate reputation are centre stage, the marketing team needs to focus on ethical issues more than ever.

Marketing to children is not going to go away any time soon therefore it is vital that professionals take it upon themselves to market their products in a responsible way. As adults we are able to choose what adverts we look at, listen to and absorb. Therefore parents must also play their part in regulating the media their children interact with whether it is TV, comics or the internet as a way of controlling the level of advertising children are subjected to. You have the power to turn a must-have into a maybe.

Best-selling toys over the past five decades 1960s: Barbie, Scalextric, Twister 1970s: Lego, Space Hoppers, Klackers 1980s: Atari Console, Rubik's Cube, Cabbage Patch Kids 1990s: The Gameboy, Buzz Lightyear, Power Rangers 2000s: Wii, Bratz, Harry Potter merchandise


IN DEMAND: Go Go Hamster JUST WHAT THEY WANTED? Parents may feel under pressure to ensure their children don't face disappointment on Christmas morning
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 2, 2009
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