The Toy Industry Association, operators of the North American International Toy Fair – which will host its 113th edition in New York in 2016 – has partnered with LeftField Media to launch a new co-located event called Play Fair. The consumer-directed toy and pop culture convention will take place at Javits North on Saturday and Sunday, February 13-14, 2016, the first two days of Toy Fair. The latter, a strictly b2b event held throughout the rest of the Javits Center next door, will remain separate.
“Over the last few years, it has become increasingly important and rewarding for brands to engage on a regular basis with their customers,” says Marian Bossard, TIA’s senior v-p of global market events. “It is no longer enough to make a product, gain shelf space, and wait for results. Social media and live fan events have given new life to the relationship between brands and their end-user. TIA wants to lead the way in creating opportunity for members of all sizes to see and be seen on a more personal level.”
“The power of the fan base is growing,” adds LeftField president Greg Topalian. “Toy and entertainment companies are saying, ‘We want to connect with the influencers.’ ”
At the same time, Toy Fair has always fascinated consumers. “When toy fans hear about Toy Fair they say, ‘I’d love to go to that,’ but they can’t go,” says Topalian, who notes that the new family-friendly event will appeal to all ages. “It’s about play, but we know that the adult collector is going to be interested in this as well.”
Like Comic Con or Book Con, there will be exclusive, limited-edition and variant products for sale, new product reveals, costumed characters, and photo opportunities. There will also be celebrity appearances, including stage performances, author readings, signings, and live music. Product demonstrations will be a central focus.
“The other shows [such as Book Con or Comic Con] are more celebrity- or personality-driven, but here it’s about the experience and the product,” Topalian says. “We’re encouraging [exhibitors] to create a hands-on experience. We don’t want it to be a giant toy store. It’s more about the act of play than the act of purchasing.”
“This is far less about aisles of exhibitors and everything to do with aisles of experiences,” agrees Brossard. “We aim to delight. Brands from the toy and entertainment world will put their teams to work to bring their message and their unique play and entertainment attributes to life.”
The two presenting sponsors, LEGO Group and Nickelodeon, illustrate the types of companies that will be among the 100 or so vendors at the inaugural Play Fair, Topalian explains, with most being leading toy brands or entertainment companies that have a connection to the toy industry. But he is also in talks with children’s book publishers and retailers, which have shown interest in participating.
“We definitely see children’s books as a part of this,” says Topalian, who was formerly with Reed Exhibitions, where he oversaw BookExpo America, founded New York Comic Con, and had a hand in the development of Book Con. About 40 to 45 children’s book publishers typically take part in Toy Fair.
“It will be a very curated experience this year,” Topalian sats. In addition to space limitations, TIA and LeftField want to use the first event to prove the concept. “We want it to be the right kind of product and the right kind of experience. It will be unlike any other event in the country.”