Creepy, Crawly Pleasures at Toy Fair

Radio-Controlled Snakes, 'Fear Factor' Candy, Big Bad Booming Bugs and Other Strange Delights at New York's Toy Fair


Feb. 14, 2006 —  New York City is once again crawling with Santa's elves. Though many Americans have yet to vacuum the Christmas tinsel from their carpets, 1,500 toy makers and marketers are now asking that timeless question: "What will your kids be whining for next year?"

Diva that she is, Barbie has exploited her personal life to grab some quick headlines. At last year's Toy Fair, America's most plastic celebrity announced through her Mattel publicists that she was competing on "American Idol," hanging out with the 12-inch version of Lindsay Lohan, and dating this Aussie surfer dude doll named Blaine, who gossips say, like her other men, proved to be anatomically incorrect.

This year Barbie's people say Ken is back at their gal's Dream House, and from his radical makeover, it looks as if he's been working out with GI Joe. Actually, Ken's got a new look courtesy of celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch, and his lightened Malibu tan and updated haircut suggest he's now hanging out in all the right places.

In Search of the Next Furby

These are indeed troubled times in toy land. The industry is trying to reverse a two-year decline in sales, which dropped 3.6 percent to $20.1 billion in 2004 and an estimated 4 percent last year.

Moreover, the small independent toy makers and retailers have found it increasingly harder to compete against industry giants, especially as even the oldest toys get high-tech makeovers. Nearly seven out of 10 toys now come with a computer chip.

Nevertheless, the American International Toy Fair — a 103-year-old New York tradition — is where the industry still turns to find the next Furby, Cabbage Patch Doll or Tickle Me Elmo.

Of course, Barbie is still a star, though, like Madonna, she's well into her 40s and is always on the lookout for ways to reinvent herself. Her "Let's Dance" line, which comes with instructional DVDs, is just part of her new direction.

It seems as if everyone's hoofing it this year. Even Twister is coming out with a dance version.

The key to many marketers is latching on to the right TV and big-screen characters. While that seems as easy as checking which superhero blockbuster film is slated for release, you can still get great deals on "Hulk" products. This year has brought high hopes for products pegged to "Superman Returns," "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" and the upcoming Disney/Pixar release, "Cars." It's always a gamble, and even more so these days, with Hollywood's box office in decline. But new technologies also open a world of possibilities.