(OPINION) TOTY 2014: And the Real Winner is YOU!

By Wendy Smolen
Cofounder, Sandbox Summit

Though almost everyone could (and did) tune in to the Oscars last Sunday, a much smaller number of people watched the “Oscars” of the toy industry! The annual “Toy of the Year” awards (TOTYs) honor the best in toys and games as well as notable industry icons who are inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame.

The Toy Industry Association (TIA) hosts the coveted awards each February when toy people gather in New York City for Toy Fair, the largest toy trade show in the Western Hemisphere. The TOTYs provide insight to families and industry insiders alike on what kids really want: What’s trending? What’s changing? What’s not?

As with the movies, companies with big names and big budgets often dominate the evening.  Mattel, Hasbro, LEGO, Disney and Leapfrog are TIA’s Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.  But like last year’s darling Jennifer Lawrence or this year’s ingénue Lupita Nyong’o, it’s the newcomers that really captured everyone’s attention at this year’s award ceremony.

If you have a tween in your life, you undoubtedly know Rainbow Loom, the must-have craft kit for making rubber band bracelets. Just to underscore its popularity, on a recent show, Jimmy Kimmel modeled a suit made entirely of Rainbow Loom bracelets. This simple craft idea was created by Wichita State University graduate Cheong Choon Ng, sells for under $20, and was on everyone’s Christmas list this year. The consumer favorite won four awards, including Activity Toy of the Year, Girl Toy of the Year, Specialty Toy of the Year, plus the overall Toy of the Year Award. Think Gravity, Gravity, Gravity. But with a lot more goodwill from the audience. 

Goldieblox, another startup company, was the other multiple award winner, taking home Educational Toy of the Year and the People’s Choice Award. (Goldieblox also scored an ad spot at the Super Bowl by winning an Intuit contest.) Debbie Sterling, Goldieblox’s founder, considers it her mission to get girls building. Last year LEGO Friends had a similar mission and was named Toy of the Year, even though people protested the pink blocks. This year, no one seemed to have a problem with Goldieblox’s girly grosgrain ribbon. In one year, we’ve come a long way, baby.

Stacy Leistner, VP of Strategic Communications for TIA, was enthusiastic about the winners, “The fact that some of the hottest toy crazes of the year came from a mix of companies of all sizes truly speaks to the innovation and creativity of our industry.”

Unlike the Oscars, families DO influence the outcome of the TOTY vote.

The initial TOTY submissions are vetted by over 60 toy industry experts and insiders before ballots open to mass and/or specialty retailers (30%), media (20%), TIA members (30%), and consumers (20%) who cast their votes online at ToyAwards.org.

According to Leistner: “Direct consumer votes are weighted 20% of the total, but consumer behavior also influences how retailers and journalists respond.  Media will vote for the ‘hot’ products they hear about from their readers and viewers, and retailers will vote for the products that are moving off their shelves.”

In reality, there will always be big companies. But the people have spoken. You want fun, innovative products. The play value is more important than the brand. And when a product is good, you’ll tell your friends. Just as these awarded toys empower kids with creativity, they empower you by raising the bar on what sells.

See the rest of the TOTY winners here.

Send your own thoughts and “selfies” with your favorite toys to wendy@sandboxsummit.org