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Hot Toy Lists and Why You Should Ignore Them

Hot Toy Lists and Why You Should Ignore Them

As a person who has spent his entire life in the toy business, Christmas is my favorite time of year. Heck, I will listen to Christmas music year-round.

There is only one part of the Christmas season I never liked – the “Hot Toys for Christmas List”. As a former retailer I would always get the call from the reporters around this time asking what toy was going to be “hot” for Christmas. What toy would be the next Cabbage Patch Doll, Tickle Me Elmo, Webkin craze?

While it is impossible to guess what toy will be the craze each year, I tried to explain to the reporters that it also didn’t matter. The hot toy each year typically had these three characteristics:

  • It was heavily advertised
  • It was out-of-stock (or at least hard to find)
  • It was talked about by the media

Notice how none of those mention play value or quality or engagement? None of those talk about child development or safety or age-appropriateness. None of those meant your child would like or even play with the toy.

While some of the “hot” toys over the years have been good toys, many have not. Take Tickle Me Elmo for example. It was a novelty more than a toy. Three squeezes of the belly and most kids were done playing. Yet some folks spent over $700 trying to track one down the year it was hot. By January, however, no one wanted it.

I always told the reporters they would better serve their readers by writing an article about what toys were “good” rather than what toys were “hot”. Plus, most of the hot toy lists were simply self-serving lists to try to drum up sales and create those out-of-stock panics of selected items.

Smart parents know to take those lists with a grain of salt and learn to evaluate toys individually on their own merit. They ask the three most important questions of a toy:

  • Is it Interactive? Does the child have to do something to make it work?
  • Is it Open-Ended? Are there many ways to play? 
  • Is it Creative? Does the child have to use her imagination?

Whether the toy is hot or not, if it answers yes to all three questions, it will always be on the Good Toy List, a much more important list for you.

Back in 2003, tired of all the hot lists, I put together a Good Toy List of toys that will be good every year. Needless to say, things like Blocks and Dolls made the list.

One of the more surprising items on that list was Puppets. But if you ask the three questions …

  • Interactive? It is just a piece of fabric until someone sticks a hand inside it
  • Open-Ended? I have seen puppets tell stories, feed, give medicine, teach, and comfort someone feeling ill. I watched two puppets entertain a two-year-old and two dozen adults through three flight delays at the airport.
  • Creative? The narrative is completely up to you.

It scores high on all three accounts.

Here is a bonus. The Puppet is one of the few toys (besides Kullerbü) where your eight-year-old will play with your two-year-old.

Hot Lists may be my least favorite part of the holidays, but my favorite – after Christmas Cookies and mom’s cheesy potatoes – is seeing parents make smart toy purchases for their kids.

(PS. HABA toys rarely make the hot lists because we aren’t in the big box stores, but occasionally we sneak onto a list or two. When we do, evaluate our toys by those same three questions. I think you will like the answers.)

Phil Wrzesinski, National Sales Manager, HABA USA

Phil, like his grandfather and father before him, has been in the toy industry his entire life, helping thousands of parents make the best choices of toys for their kids.

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