A holiday party inside a fictional metaverse. | Source: stock.adobe.com

‘Twas two weeks before Christmas and the markdowns have begun.

I had a chance to do my weekly retail run the other day where I made stops at all of the local big boxes, including Walmart, Target, Sam’s Club, Costco, and Meijer. While inventory levels didn’t appear alarmingly high, each store was still showing heavier-than-usual stock levels for this time of the year.

The markdowns have begun, and I ran into some pretty aggressive examples that will hopefully entice consumers to pick up some great toys at great value in the weeks ahead.

Across the board, the deepest discounts were found at Target, Meijer, and Sam’s Club. Target is working a mix of sale pricing paired with its usual $10 off $50/$25 off $100 deal. Meanwhile, Meijer and Sam’s Club have initiated full-blown clearance pricing on a ton of items that are already 50% off (or more). Sam’s was the biggest surprise of the bunch as nearly its entire toy selection was on sale or clearance with some pallets appearing to have just been stocked.

My fingers are crossed that retailers will have a successful holiday season and start the new year ready for newness come January.

The digital roadmap for Geoffrey the Giraffe’s adventure into the metaverse. | Source: Toys “R” Us

Approaching the “Phygital” Future with Caution

There is little doubt that toys and games that marry physical and digital components are something that we’re going to see a lot of in 2023. From CES and Spielwarenmesse in January to Toy Fair in September, we can expect to see the rollout of countless “phygital” toys and collectibles, but it’s still a space that needs to be approached with caution.

Personally, I am a skeptic when it comes to non-fungible tokens (NFTs), the metaverse, and Web3.

While I believe that there is a place for everything, these developing digital worlds have been overhyped and overblown without giving them the proper time to organically develop a real audience to support products with real value and utility.

In just a short period of time, we’ve seen major toymakers and emerging players jump into the digital space with mixed results. Thus far, most of the toyetic NFT offerings have been aimed at adult collectors through programs such as Cryptoys, the Hot Wheels NFT Garage, Funko’s collaborative drops, etc. But now, it appears a younger audience is about to be targeted.

Related: The Toy Book’s 2022 Innovation & STEM Issue is Here!

In the first quarter of next year, Toekenz plans to launch digital collectibles via “Play-to-Collect” games that will feature intellectual property (IP) from Boat Rocker, Mattel, and even Pinkfong’s Baby Shark.

On Dec. 7, GameStop revealed third quarter earnings that missed the mark, and the news came less than 24 hours after the company essentially shuttered its department focused on developing programs built around digital assets, cryptocurrency, blockchain, and Web3. On the company’s short earnings call, GameStop CEO Matt Furlong said, “Although we continue to believe there is long-term potential for digital assets in the gaming world, we have not and will not risk meaningful stockholder capital in this space.”

Coincidentally, GameStop’s digital sputter happened on the same day that WHP Global’s Toys “R” Us formally announced an NFT and metaverse play with Anybodies. And that was just days after the latest issue of AdWeek arrived on my desk with a bold, text-only cover asking “WTF Happened to NFTs?”

Now, the company behind Bored Ape Yacht Club is at the center of a major lawsuit regarding its NFTs. Deadline reported that Yuga Labs and its celebrity endorsers — including Jimmy Fallon, Snoop Dogg, Madonna, Justin Bieber, Gwyneth Paltrow, and others — are in the hot seat for allegedly hyping digital assets that were sold at inflated prices before a major crash. View the court filing here.

Just a few short years ago, countless now-forgotten toys required the use of a companion app and a digital device (usually a smartphone) to power them. Let’s hope that the phygital future we’re sitting on the cusp of gets developed into something useful and lasting that doesn’t simply become a footnote in the book of quick cash grabs that the public moved on from.

Toys Invade Saturday Night Live

Have you been watching Saturday Night Live (SNL) lately?

This weekend, Steve Martin and Martin Short returned to host a new episode of the long-running late-night comedy series. In one sketch, A Visit with Santa, a 9-year-old girl named Penny (played by Chloe Fineman) asks for three of 2022’s hottest toys by name: A Magic Mixies Crystal Ball (Moose Toys), a What the Fluff Interactive Cat (Spin Master), and a Rainbow High Doll (MGA Entertainment).

While toys have always been a part of the SNL experience dating back to Dan Aykroyd’s portrayal of Irwin Mainway, the devious CEO of the fictional Mainway Toys in a 1976 Consumer Probe sketch, it seems they’ve been showing up a bit more frequently this year.

Last week, host Keke Palmer appeared in a sketch lampooning the opening of “New York City’s first Hello Kitty store.” Amid debate as to whether or not Hello Kitty is supposed to represent a human girl (spoiler alert: she is), the set was fully stocked with real toys and games from Sanrio, Super Impulse, usaopoly | The Op, and more.

Back in May, MGA Entertainment’s Bratz dolls were celebrated in a sketch of their own as Selena Gomez, Aidy Bryant, and Bowen Yang starred as dolls that came to life to help a young girl cope with divorce. That sketch came just three months after Spin Master’s PAW Patrol got the SNL treatment in a mock political ad in which a city councilman (Oscar Isaac) and a group of concerned citizens (Kenan Thompson, Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, Mikey Day) asked for Adventure Bay to dismantle its PAW Patrol initiative.

Looking back through the decades, toys and games have made for some entertaining sketch fodder with top properties from Barbie and Bop-It! to NERF inspiring some comedic takes. In 2019, SNL released a compilation of parody toy commercials inspired by Hasbro’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens action figures and vehicles, American Girl, Hoverboards, and more.

It’s always great to see toys on TV, so here’s a virtual tip of the hat to the SNL writers’ room for finding new ways to work them into the show for a mainstream audience.

The Toy Book Magazine

Have You Submitted for The BIG Toy Book Yet?

The clock is ticking to submit new products for the 2023 edition of The BIG Toy Book!

Our biggest, most important, and most-read issue of the year drops a little later than usual to reflect the changing calendar of live events for the U.S. toy industry. The BIG Toy Book (The Toy Book, Vol. 39, No. 1) arrives Feb. 28, 2023. If you have products that you’d like to see showcased for retail buyers, distributors, and other members of the trade, the deadline for submissions is Dec. 22.

Get full details on how to submit right here. And, be sure to place your ads right now! Contact Jackie Breyer or James Devin to get your ad into our epic new issue.

Until next time!

About the author

James Zahn

James Zahn

James Zahn, AKA The Rock Father, is Editor-in-Chief of The Toy Book, a Senior Editor at The Toy Insider and The Pop Insider, and Editor of The Toy Report, The Toy Book‘s weekly industry newsletter. As a pop culture and toy industry expert, Zahn has appeared as a panelist and guest at events including Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC) Wizard World Chicago, and the ASTRA Marketplace & Academy. Zahn has more than 30 years of experience in the entertainment, retail, and publishing industries, and is frequently called upon to offer expert commentary for publications such as Forbes, Marketwatch, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, Reuters, the Washington Post, and more. James has appeared on History Channel’s Modern Marvels, was interviewed by Larry King and Anderson Cooper, and has been seen on Yahoo! Finance, CNN, CNBC, FOX Business, NBC, ABC, CBS, WGN, The CW, and more. Zahn joined the Adventure Media & Events family in 2016, initially serving as a member of the Parent Advisory Board after penning articles for the Netflix Stream Team, Fandango Family, PBS KIDS, Sprout Parents (now Universal Kids), PopSugar, and Chicago Parent. He eventually joined the company full time as a Senior Editor and moved up the ranks to Deputy Editor and Editor-in-Chief.