2020: what a year! Following a fairly average first quarter capped by an exciting toy fair season that hinted at a strong lineup for the holidays, the toy industry found itself facing the uncharted waters of doing business in a pandemic. By April, some toymakers were predicting catastrophic losses of 25% to 60%, but then something miraculous happened: families that now had more time than ever to spend together began rediscovering the joy of play.
Despite stay-at-home orders and closures to “non-essential” retailers, the U.S. toy industry was scoring big increases at the register as usually-stagnant categories took off in waves and led to a 19.1% increase coming out of the third quarter. Companies — including Adventure Media & Events, publisher of the Toy Book — pivoted and adjusted to a remote workforce. Our April/May issue became the first issue of the Toy Book to be published by a team working completely from home, a possibility that had never been considered for a publication that’s been covering the toy industry since 1984.
To close the book on what’s been a year filled with challenges and change, we’re doing our first-ever roundup of the top 25 most-read stories of the year at toybook.com. While some are no surprise, a few stand out as real head-scratchers among the news that made headlines in the toy industry and beyond!
The Toy Book’s 2020 Unboxed — The Top 25 Most-Read Stories
1. LEGO Pulls Back Police Playset Affiliate Marketing Amid George Floyd Protests
Our most-read story of the year was spawned by a misunderstanding and a lack of context tied to a tragic event during a tumultuous month. After an email sent to members of the LEGO Affiliate Program requested a pause on marketing certain LEGO sets began circulating on social media, the Toy Book covered the story, and in turn, became part of the story as outlets across the country and around the world put their own — often erroneous — spin on the matter. A tweet from President Donald Trump’s then-campaign manager Brad Parscale containing a link to our story further confused the matter, and even Snopes got involved. The bottom line: No LEGO product was ever removed from sale, but marketing was paused due to cultural sensitivity.
2. Universal’s Back to the Future Franchise Celebrates 35 Years of Time-traveling Fun
At Toy Fair New York in February, Universal Brand Development kicked-off a year-long celebration of the Back to the Future franchise with new products and plans for live events. Back to the Future co-creator, co-writer, and co-producer Bob Gale spoke with the Toy Book about the enduring legacy of the film and its sequels alongside commentary from Super7’s Brian Flynn, Funko’s Sean Wilkinson, and Playmobil’s Björn Seeger.
3. Amazon Unveils 2020 Toys We Love Hot Holiday Toy List
Ahead of the holiday season, members of the e-commerce giant’s toy team rolled out a list of 100 hand-picked toys that they believed would be hot this year. The Toy Book showcased 25 of them in this special showcase that was big on Amazon exclusive items for kids of all ages.
4. Hasbro Introduces G.I. Joe Retro Collection
Following the immediate success of its G.I. Joe: Classified Series, Hasbro unleashed the G.I. Joe Retro Collection in June. Similar to what Hasbro has done with Star Wars The Vintage Collection, this new series includes 3.75-inch scale super-articulated action figures and vehicles that come in vintage-inspired packaging with retro Hasbro branding, which are available exclusively at Walmart.
5. Kellytoy’s Holiday Squishmallows Squad Is Here to Spread Seasonal Cheer
Jazwares’ Kellytoy subsidiary continues to expand its Squishmallows collection and each new assortment is hot, hot, hot! The Holiday Squad is no exception, and by mid-August fans were lining up to add festive new characters to their collections in multiple sizes.
6. How COVID-19 is Affecting the Toy Industry
At Toy Fair New York in February, few would’ve predicted that a pandemic would soon take place on U.S. soil. By late March, the Toy Book was operating a special content hub for information on the spread of COVID-19 and how the coronavirus was affecting all aspects of the toy industry, from supply chain hiccups to office closures, furloughs, layoffs, and corporate pivots.
7. Crayola Teams Up with Burger King for King Jr Kids’ Meal Promotion
Who knew that so many readers would be interested in a kids’ meal?
8. Sustainable Projects Group Acquires Shark Tank Hit Soy-Yer Dough
A decade after making a deal with the Sharks on ABC’s Shark Tank, Soy-Yer Dough was acquired by Sustainable Projects Group (SPGX). The allergy-free modeling dough from Indiana-based inventors Sawyer and Samantha Sparks would undergo a name change to “Yer Dough” shortly after the publication of our article. The reason? The dough was never made from soy products.
9. 2021 Toy of the Year (TOTY) Awards Finalists Revealed
The “Oscars of the toy industry” are going virtual this year, but that’s not stopping the excitement. The Toy Association’s annual reveal of all the nominees inspired the Toy Book‘s first-ever TOTYs special issue and “For Your Consideration” section — just like Hollywood!
10. MGA Entertainment Debuts New L.O.L. Surprise! Lights Dolls
The No. 1 doll line in the world hit the ground running in January with the debut L.O.L. Surprise! O.M.G. Lights. The new range — including O.M.G. fashion dolls, glitter dolls, and pets — stands out under normal light and a special black light. At first, these dolls look like other L.O.L. O.M.G. fashion dolls. Then, kids can use the included blacklight to reveal additional surprises. The dolls kicked off another big year for the brand which most recently launched the REMIX collection.
11. Rubie’s Costume Co. Files Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Amid COVID-19 Uncertainty
Facing the uncertainty of Halloween during a pandemic, the world’s largest designer, manufacturer, and distributor of costume and related party accessories servicing more than 2,000 retail accounts found itself in bankruptcy court to reorganize its debt. Spoiler alert: Rubie’s emerged from bankruptcy in October under new ownership as a sister company to NECA.
12. Alex Brands, Poof-Slinky Assets Are Headed to the Auction Block
Early in the spring, just on the cusp of the COVID-19 pandemic, Alex Brands quietly shut its doors. The New Jersey-based company, which was gearing up to celebrate the 75th anniversary of its Slinky brand this year, let its third-party PR team go immediately following Toy Fair New York. By mid-March, most staffers had been sent home, and by early April, its website went offline and lawsuits had been filed on behalf of manufacturing and logistics partners. A few months later, Slinky and Shrinky Dinks wound up at Just Play while the rest of the company was restructured into Alex Global Products.
13. Mattel Unveils Star Wars: The Mandalorian Real Moves Baby Yoda Plush
Following the success of its 11-inch plush version of The Child (aka Baby Yoda) from Star Wars: The Mandalorian — the No. 1 item in plush both for the third quarter according to NPD — Mattel introduced a new version that’s even more lifelike. A few weeks later, audiences around the world learned that The Child’s real name is Grogu.
14. Exclusive: Full Details Emerge on A Toy Store Near You, the New Docuseries from the Makers of The Toys That Made Us
The Toy Book was first to reveal the full details on A Toy Store Near You as producer Brian Volk-Weiss and the team behind Netflix’s The Toys That Made Us and The Movies That Made Us put the spotlight on stores in America and other locations around the world as they evolve to deal with the effects of the coronavirus and the spread of COVID-19 on their businesses.
15. Mattel Is Releasing Toys Based on Netflix’s Over the Moon
Interest was high for products tied to the Oct. 23 release of Over the Moon on Netflix. The film follows a bright young girl with a passion for science as she builds a rocket ship to the moon to prove the existence of a legendary moon goddess.
16. Jazwares, Hasbro Produce Toys Inspired by Travis Scott x Fortnite Virtual Concerts
More than 12.3 million concurrent players watched Travis Scott’s first performance streaming inside Epic Games’ Fortnite and preorders for new toys and collectibles tied to the event were ready to go.
17. pocket.watch’s Love, Diana Debuts New Toy Line
In October, pocket.watch announced the new Love, Diana — Princess of Play consumer product line, which launched exclusively at Walmart. The line is inspired by the widely popular YouTuber who has racked up billions of views on her channels this year.
18. ZURU Lines Up Crayola, Nickelodeon, Wham-O, and More for Toy Mini Brands
One of the biggest hits of the holiday season is physically very small. ZURU’s Toy Mini Brands includes more than 60 toys that are designed to match their full-sized counterparts. The assortment includes JoJo Siwa, Blaze and the Monster Machines vehicles, SpongeBob SquarePants, Leonardo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender, Backpack from Dora the Explorer, Angelica from Rugrats, and Crayola crayons, Frisbee, Fingerlings, and more.
19. The Pokémon Co. Reveals Champion’s Path TCG Expansion
After nearly 25 years on the scene, Pokémon was hotter than ever this year and with Champion’s Path, Pokémon Trainers can recreate their journey through the Galar region in the Pokémon TCG by collecting various pins featuring Gym logos as well as foil cards representing the partner Pokémon of each Gym Leader — similar to what they’d experience in the Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield video games.
20. Exclusive: Andy Heyward, Harold Chizick Talk Genius Brands’ Acquisition of ChizComm Ltd, ChizComm Beacon Media
A year filled with surprises was capped with some familiar faces in the toy and family entertainment industries forging a powerful alliance. The Toy Book was first to speak with Genius Brands’ Andy Heyward and ChizComm’s Harold Chizick about the deal that brought their companies together and what that means for the future.
21. Toronto’s Toys, Toys, Toys Files Bankruptcy, Immediately Liquidates Stores
Canadian retailer Toys, Toys, Toys (aka Toys Cubed) faced a catastrophic shutdown, filing for bankruptcy protection and immediately liquidating its last five stores in the Greater Toronto area. Founded in 1990, Toys, Toys, Toys was an independent, family-owned retailer that offered a selection of toys across all categories in addition to stocking a selection of tourist souvenirs. Just two years ago, the company was opening new stores, but like many, it was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
22. Walmart 2020 Top-Rated by Kids Toy Awards Come to FOX
DJ Khaled and Meghan Trainor played host to the first nationally televised toy award show presented by the Arkansas-based retailer. Additionally, the show streamed live across Walmart social platforms, including YouTube with co-host Collins Key, Instagram and Facebook with co-host Laurie Hernandez, and TikTok with co-hosts WeWearCute.
23. The Toy Association Awards 2020 TOTY Winners
For the third year in a row, there was no surprise at The Toy Association’s 20th annual Toy of the Year Awards. The big winners of the night were MGA Entertainment, which won the distinguished Toy of the Year for L.O.L. Surprise! for a third time, and Rainbocorns Ultimate Sequin Surprise Series 2 from ZURU, raking in the most votes for the People’s Choice Award.
24. Toys “R” Us Canada Unveils 2020 Top Holiday Toy List
Geoffrey the Giraffe’s Canadian outpost revealed some of the biggest toy hits of the holidays.
25. An Icon Reborn? How Toys “R” Us Is Attempting a U.S. Comeback
This was actually published in 2020. From the Toy Book‘s January issue, this special feature looked at how Tru Kids Brands was attempting to reinvent the Toys “R” Us brand in the U.S.
While 2020 was filled with uncertainty, we’re looking ahead into 2021 with optimism, and the Toy Book team is excited to bring you all the latest news, features, and insights on the business of play!