Magazine article Marketing

The Great Christmas Marketing Challenge

Magazine article Marketing

The Great Christmas Marketing Challenge

Article excerpt

This time last year few would have imagined there would be such high demand for motorised hamsters. Suzy Bashford asks how brands and retailers can make the right call at Christmas.

Cast your mind back to the 80s. The decade marked the birth of not only the Rubik's Cube and shoulder pads, but also Christmas-craze shopping.

In 1983, the squashed faces of the Cabbage Patch Kids captured the imagination of kids across the globe and caught retailers unawares, forcing them to order more stock when shelves emptied as soon as they were replenished.

A string of other toy crazes has followed in their wake: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Furbys, PlayStation 2 games consoles and Tickle Me Elmo.

This year, the pounds 10 battery-operated Go Go Hamsters are the Christmas must-have product. According to a spokeswoman for the manufacturer, The Character Group, the buzz around the product has been built by word of mouth, originating in the US, where it was launched.

'From the moment the product went on sale in the UK, it was obvious that the trend would be replicated,' she says. 'We saw this through up-to-the-minute sales data from major retailers and from enquiries on the website, so we put out more orders to meet demand. As soon as stocks arrive, they are sold, and although it is being replenished, supply will fall short.'

The furry gizmos are now selling for four or five times their purchase price on eBay.

Nevertheless, the science behind Christmas retailing has become so precise that retailers can now prevent too many children from being disappointed on Christmas morning.

'Fortunately, disaster stories of too much or too little product are few and far between now, as things are so well worked-through,' says Dave Martin, general manager of Mega Brands, which owns Battle Strikers, hotly tipped to be a Christmas bestseller. 'There's such a filtering process that huge flops are fairly rare. Quite often you'll get the buyer saying they don't see it selling; they will be studying sales data daily, or even hourly, so they wouldn't significantly overstock.'

Failures are rare, but they do happen. That's because, while Christmas marketing is a science, a certain degree of art is also necessary Betting that a particular product will sell well is still a big gamble for retailers, particularly in the preschool market.

The flop story that most in the toy industry recall is that of Boohbah On paper, it looked like a dead cert. Created by Ragdoll, maker of the hit TV show Teletubbies, retailers snapped up the Boohbah product - but it failed to connect with preschoolers, and retailers were left with piles of unsold stock. This put some retailers' toy-buyers off backing Ragdoll's next venture, which turned out to be the phenomenally successful In The Night Garden.

Buyers are under immense pressure to make the right calls, and often gravitate to tried and tested manufacturers rather than take a risk on smaller brands.

'We have ongoing relationships with retailers that span many years, but if you are coming out with a new product and trying to break into the market, that could be very challenging for a smaller company or brand,' says Martin.

Inventor Andrew Reeves, who is behind the Ramisis and Ku Ku puzzles, confirms Martin's hunch. Although his products have been featured on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and Dragon's Den, which boosted their profile, it is still difficult to get a slot in a buyer's busy schedule. 'The PR does help, but even if you have got a really good product, it's hard,' says Reeves. 'I'd estimate that for every 30,000 products a buyer at Hasbro sees, they pick three or four, and they are looking for cheap products with huge margins. Even speaking to a buyer is a positive. If I've done that, I've had a good day.'

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