It feels like the world was a very different place just 10 months ago.
As the toy industry descended upon the Javtis Center for a look at hottest new toys and games for the year ahead at Toy Fair New York, reps from Diaframma — the Italian studio behind some of the industry’s best video advertising of the past four decades — met with clients to lay the groundwork for new campaigns. Even as rumblings about the “novel coronavirus” swirled through a convention center where the occasional fist bump or elbow tag began replacing handshakes and hugs, few would’ve predicted a global pandemic.
At the time, the Toy Book caught up with Jehan Hindo, Diaframma’s vice president of U.S. sales, for insight as to how the company has grown and expanded over the years and how it continues to evolve to serve toymakers of any size across an ever-changing array of platforms. The ability to evolve and change over time is part of the company’s success, and just two month later, Diaframma was finding new ways to produce new toy-based content by doing what they do best: getting creative.
Looking ahead to a Toy Fair season that has already been dismantled for 2021, the Toy Book reconnected with Hindo for a follow-up to learn how Diaframma has fared in the past year, and how the company is positioned to keep creating great promotional content for toymakers of all sizes as we head into a new year filled with a bit of uncertainty and one thing that is very certain: a wealth of fantastic new toys and games!
The Toy Book: The world looks a lot different than when we last spoke ahead of Toy Fair New York. How has Diaframma evolved to serve its clients during the COVID-19 era?
Jehan Hindo: I would say the world is unrecognizable since we last spoke. However, COVID-19 really woke us up and kept us on our toes throughout the summer. We have invested in streaming technology to allow our clients to live stream shoots so that they don’t miss a beat when shooting with us. We also have had to work under tighter timelines to get our clients’ approval earlier to account for any last-minute changes. I will have to say, as lucky as we are to live in this fully virtual capable world, we really missed our clients this year.
TB: Have you already or are you thinking about heading back into the studio anytime soon? What kind of precautions are you taking for everyone involved to ensure safety?
JH: We have actually been up and running since the second week of May. Italy was one of the first countries to lockdown and by the same measures one of the first to open back up. In that sense, we have been very fortunate this year. It was a bit worrisome at first, dealing with crew and talent on set and everyone having to be socially distanced but our team pulled it together and we had an incredible summer. We are following all COVID-19 protocols and everyone needs to be masked at all times. The kids themselves are very happy to be back on set and still involved in the productions so that is all we can ask for!
TB: Video production tastes have shifted a bit as companies pivot from traditional TV to digital offerings. Have you received any requests from clients this year that you haven’t seen in the past?
JH: We have actually received a lot of requests this year for “Toy Play” videos. That is something that I think more and more clients are investing in. It’s a need that serves YouTube more than any other channel but is also a way to engage their customers into a storytelling world using their products. This year we did a lot of Toy Play videos with VTech and its Cory Carson and Mya’s Sparkling Friends lines and also with Goliath’s Vet Squad. Our clients used this strategy in tandem with traditional TV so it is an extra that works together with the entire campaign.
TB: Can you tell us a little bit about some of the new clients and campaigns that you’ve worked on for this year’s hot holiday toys?
JH: This year we were proud to partner up with Jazwares to work on the re-launch of Micro Machines. The campaign was challenging yet fun. The goal was to find the perfect balance of nostalgia for Micro Machines and the energy and excitement of a new product line. ZURU is another new client this year that really got our entire studio shaking and laughing with Rainbow Bonnie the Booty Shaking Llama and Fifi the Flossing Sloth. The production involved a marching band, a Mariachi band, a flossing grandma, and lots of laughter. Another new client for us this year, Cepia, introduced us to the wacky world of Cats vs Pickles! If you haven’t seen these super fun plush collectibles you need to ASAP!
TB: While the year has presented new challenges, it’s also opened up many new opportunities. What have you been surprised by most to come out of this year?
JH: I have honestly been surprised and proud of the fact that our industry has been so quick to respond, adapt, and be reactive to this pandemic. We feel very fortunate to be in the middle of this seemingly never-ending story but have the opportunity to keep moving forward. Even if we are moving at a slower pace, you can’t stop toys and that is something we should all be proud of. We all quickly adapted to the new work from home and no travel stops without skipping a beat. That being said, our industry has taken a hit and it has been difficult not to have the face-to-face meetings and comradery at trade shows but I think we will all appreciate them that much more when we are able to get back to it. I’d also say, shooting without clients has really deepened our relationships with clients as well. Trust is something that is to be earned and I believe this summer proved that we have sound collaborations and can really be there for each other.
TB: Next year is already shaping up to be just as unexpected as 2020. What are Diaframma’s plans and goals for the future?
JH: We have a few new tricks up our sleeves but I can’t reveal them just yet.
However, Diaframma as a whole has taken this time to clean up our studios, organize each of our departments better and we have finally finished our solar panel roof. This has been a long-time initiative as we have been wanting to go green for a long time and we were finally able to invest some time to do that so for 2021 we are not only looking forward to expanding our technology and capabilities but we also want to do that while doing our part for the planet.
TB: What advice would you give to toymakers that are pivoting their operations during the pandemic?
JH: As I mentioned earlier, I am extremely proud to be part of this industry and believe, for the most part, that all toymakers this year really earned a nice pat on the back. One thing I do believe we all need to consider is how to reposition toys in general. Now that we are in a new realm of kids virtually learning instead of going to school every day, kids having more alone time and not engaging with other children as much whether it be in sports or after school activities, I think we need to focus on always having some kind of underlying message, educational aspect or cultural reference to help fill the void of this time period. It’s a challenge we all face to make sure we are delivering FUN entertainment that has a positive impact on the future generation.
Diaframma’s roster of current and past clients includes companies such as Nintendo, Spin Master, MGA Entertainment, VTech, Rubik’s, and WowWee, for brands including L.O.L. Surprise!, Pokémon, Rubik’s, and more. The company is known for its creative team, a wide array of services, and vast storytelling ability, and is taking new clients for 2021 and beyond.
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