and TV tie-in merchandise is big business at present. No one
knows this better than Chris Jones, marketing manager at Vivid
Imaginations. In recent years he has helped to launch Spider-man,
X-Men, Lord of the Rings and The Simpsons toys and
collectors figures into the UK market. But can the growth of
this sector be sustained? Darren Rea finds out...
Rea: How has the toy sector changed in recent years? And what
sort of impact have games consoles had on the market?
Jones: Games consoles certainly have had an impact, but it
is something that the industry has lived with for 20+ years
since the first Gameboy's came out. So the emergence of the
games console is not a new challenge for the industry. But,
what is tending to happen is that the games consoles are getting
increasingly sophisticated. The games are becoming more involving
and younger children are becoming more receptive to technology
that their play patterns have evolved to the point where they
will sit in front of the TV with a game controller in their
hand as part of their play pattern. So it has had a big affect
on the industry, but there is still a massive traditional
market as well.
Everyone always points out that it was Star Wars that
kick-started the character merchandising industry. How have
things progressed since then? Looking back it's obvious that
more time is spent on creating figures that actually look
like the characters.
A lot of the reason that they do actually look a lot more
like the characters from the movie now is down to Toy Biz,
which is owned by Marvel. They have a special laser scan technology
which they take onto the film sets that allows them to scan
the actors faces and everything that they wear. These scans
are then used as the starting point in their sculpting process.
The greatest example of that is in the Lord of The Rings
are more expensive than the traditional action figures, but
the attention to detail is phenomenal. This was something
that New Line were very insistent on and why they gave the
rights of the toy line to Marvel and Toy Biz specifically.
It seems to be science fiction based movies and shows that
produce the main toy lines. Why don't we see toys based on
I think that there is a certain romance about movies and the
stars are the American Royal Family. They don't have their
king and queen, they have their movie starts who are put on
a pedestal and respected. And they become World famous because
of their glamour, their money and the high life that they
lead. I think that this makes these characters quite aspirational.
Also the stories behind the movies tend to be really strong.
Whereas if you look at soap operas - sure they get massive
audiences and huge repeat audiences but there is no real play
pattern to them. I think kids watch these movies, are exposed
to the storyline and can then go back and play with toys and
the playsets and recreate things that they've seen in the
There are certainly now more toys aimed at adult collectors.
Has the consumer base changed much?
It has, yes. It's interesting in that primarily a lot of these
toys are aimed at children, but there is an increasing collector
base out there.
the toy companies have always been aware of the collector
base, they are starting to customise products for them.
you look at Lord of the Rings, again, they have expanded
and are now looking at characters that they know will be really
popular amongst the collectors. If you look at characters
like Treebeard [pictured right] and the Cave Troll from the
Lord of the Rings movies they are great toys, but the
investment that goes into developing and tooling them is huge
and I doubt it would be financially justifiable to produce
some of these characters if the collectors weren't there.
Because actors can now ask for more money in their movie contracts
for their toy likenesses has this posed any problems?
I know that in the US, and I think this has happened with
Lord of the Rings, is that the actor gets to sign off
on their own likeness. Knowing that the artist has approved
their likeness helps to maintain the integrity of the brand.
Do you think the market has much scope for expansion?
CJ: I think it's in a mature stage at the moment where you've
got companies, like Marvel, that will continue to produce
good figures for good movies. I think that as long as there
are a string of good, character based movies in production,
there will always be toy lines to support them.
Is there a problem with product being produced before the
movie is released? If the movie is a disaster then you have
tons of useless merchandise that you can't shift.
Yes, but I think that the toy companies have to take responsibility
there and just be careful. It comes down to a difficult balance
between shipping enough to have product at retail so that
it doesn't blow out on the day the movie opens, but also not
over committing yourself so that if a movie is a flop you
are not stuck with loads of product on shelf.
For you personally, which has been the best range to deal
with? Which of the toys do you prefer?
That's a tough question. I think of the stuff coming through
this year we have an item that is a toy, rather than a collector's
item called Hulk
This will tie-in with the new Hulk movie. These are
huge foam hands that have motion sensors in them and when
you bash them together you get crashing, roaring and banging
is more based around role play, so the kids can become the
Hulk. It's just a good, simple toy using modern technology.
If the movie does well, and all the signs look good that it
will, then this could be one of the hottest toys.
Thank you for your time.
thanks to Emma Jowitt at Norton & Company