Genna Rosenberg: Which Toy Awards will be Your Solid Gold?

by GennComm | 01 Jul 2022

Industry Commentary, Op-Ed

Your teams have worked hard for probably a year or two on your top new toy introductions, and they’re finally at retail or ready to ship - Congratulations!  Now wouldn’t it be amazing for your top drivers to earn some well-deserved gold medals, shiny seals and industry-wide recognitions? But there are so many different Toy Awards that companies can submit their treasured new introductions to, as well as costs and criteria nuances that come along with them… How should sharp marketers with finite budgets decide which ones they should go for? I have to say, my perspective and rationale has evolved over the years. 


I was recently inspired by a smart question posed by a seasoned GennComm client,


“Which Toy Awards are best for us, and with the new timing for the Toy of the Year Awards (TOTY) and Nominations due July 8th, should we submit completely new Fall items that haven’t been on-shelf yet, or should we wait until they’re more established? Our Marketing won’t start until September; two of the products have limited distribution and the third will also just be starting. Is this the year to submit these? 


My team and I have been submitting Toy Awards for companies we’ve worked for and represented for the past 25 years, and I’ve served on the TOTY Committee for about 10 years. Here are our insights for TOTY and other Awards. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list of Toy Awards (you’re welcome to connect and GennComm can help guide you with specificity), but rather some topline insights and thought-starters for your consideration as you create your own cost benefit analysis and decide when it’s time to Go For Gold!


Starting with TOTY… Historically TOTY winners have been announced in February at Toy Fair New York, after the selling season. The rationale was to take into account what did well. How was it promoted? What was the social media impact and sales? The Finalists in each category are always an interesting mix including new versions of classic favorites, some expected new big introductions that did a great job breaking through the clutter at retail over the holidays, and sometimes there are grumblings when lesser known, specialty items or toys with limited distribution make it on the lists as Finalists. Some entitled toyco owners might even go so far as to say “no one even bought that item, how did that toy make it on there!?” Also, with winners announced in February, there was also some feedback, that it could possibly better serve the toycos to be able to tout awards during the holiday selling season vs. after the fact.


Other Awards like the Australia Toy Awards come out early in the year, way before the selling season, and highlight stand out new toy lines that are awesome and show promise. Then the toymakers can tout those awards to first influence buyers to earn  shelf space at retail, and then use the Awards to keep momentum going into Holiday to drive purchasing decisions by consumers.


Time to Play Holiday Toy Awards, The Toy Insider Hot Holiday Awards, and other media-driven Toy Awards announce winners in the September time period, and are focused on what they and their respective panels of judges predict will be popular for the holiday season; and these picks often drive inclusion into multiple other holiday gift lists in various media outlets nationwide.


So with the changing of Toy Fair New York from February to September, Toy Association and the TOTY Committee had a chance to revamp TOTY with a fresh lens. They chose to shift the model and make it about highlighting toys that either are popular or extraordinary, and/or new toys that show promise. Toys can be submitted for this TOTY that have come out in the previous two seasons, or be new for this year.


Now, last year I think something like 7 or 8 Awards went to Lego - Congrats Lego for being so amazing. Many of the same brands and toycos (like Lego, Hasbro, Mattel, Spinmaster, etc) get into multiple categories as Finalists. Why? Because they submit to every category and they rise to the top. I think the new timeline coupled with the fact that people may feel like they just did TOTY submissions may cause less submissions overall. Plus, the committee will likely implement some new rules so no one toyco sweeps all the categories again; and all of this will create more opportunities for newbies.


What Else Should We Keep In Mind?


There are lots of awards and real costs associated with each submission, so I think it’s very important to consider - What will your company DO with Awards wins if you get them? We often put Awards in front of our clients and prompt them to consider how they can leverage them to drive sales. But ultimately you need to decide if the company will utilize them if you do win. For example, with a preschool product, baby product or game especially, I believe the use of the Award Seals on packages do influence consumer purchases. But many Awards may also come with separate additional licensing fees to use the Award Seals on websites, in advertising or on packaging. Some toyco clients make a big deal with Awards. They sticker products, include them on their website and PR, blow them up on signage in their showrooms at trade shows, and tout them emphatically to influence buyers’ decisions. Candidly years ago I worked at a major toyco, they did not want to pay to sticker the packages, didn’t want to pay the fees for the seals, and I only recall one brand team effectively showcasing them in the showroom to influence buyers. So it made sense to stop applying for Awards unless they were media-driven and presented a huge PR value. Anecdotally, the one brand marketing team that did smartly use the Awards widely, became a billion dollar brand. Driven just by PR, not advertising, it was an innovative, great line that was ultimately a TOTY Winner, and won multiple other Toy Awards the brand marketing team proudly touted and optimized their ROI.


Another slant on Toy Awards is to shine a bright spotlight on specific team members within companies who helped bring the toys to life. While some Toy Awards are about the toys themselves, other Awards, like the WiT Wonder Women Awards, and the  People of Play TAGIE Awards are about the brilliant people and teams that make the magic happen behind the scenes.


If you or a colleague are an Innovator in Toy & Game Product Development, Marketing, PR, Retail, Design or Supplier, you can enter yourself or a colleague for a TAGIE and they are free to enter. Your company can show their appreciation for their sharp teammates and showcase their talent’s creativity and originality at this annual awards event voted on by their peers from around the world.


So, should you do all the awards out there? Probably not, unless you also consider how you will optimize the wins across your integrated marketing plans. If you will and budget permitting, I think the preschool products especially could be ripe for multiple parenting awards.


Back to TOTY, there is no way to know if your brand new introductions will rise to the top this year, but if there’s budget, I would go for it with at least a few of them! There are NO guarantees but also, you have to be in it to win it.


Good luck everyone!


About Genna Rosenberg:

Genna Rosenberg is a 25-year toy industry executive and Connector, focused on the intersection of Social Good and Consumer Products. She’s the CEO of GennComm, Chief Ideator at GennComm ImaGENNation, celebrating 10 years in 2022. Rosenberg is an active spokesperson and Advisory Board Member for Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment, an official Toy Industry Genius of Play Ambassador, and a member of both Licensing International and Los Angeles Community Leaders.   

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