Toy guitars, laser tag, and fairy dolls are all tried and true playthings, but toy maker WowWeeis betting it can take these concepts and put a new twist on them with a little help from technology.
It's a formula that has worked for them in the past.
Last Christmas, Paper Jamz stood out as one of a handful of really hot toys. The product line featured cardboard-thin guitars, drum sets and amplifers with touch sensors that allowed kids and adults to either play along with a pre-loaded song or freestyle on their own.
The product's price as well as its novel look and feel helped win it numerous fans. All the while, WowWee grabbed more store shelf space—a sure sign of its success.
"Last year was massively successful because of Paper Jamz," said Marc Rosenberg, a spokesman for the company.
Rosenberg attributed the company's success to its ability to be nimble and flexible and create a toy that offered an opportunity for a lot of playtime at a very low price.
This year, WowWee's not content to sit still with the Paper Jamz brand. The company is rolling out a line of "Pro-Series" guitars and drums as well as a microphone that helps autotune a person's voice as they sing. The best part of these products israther than having one or two pre-set songs, as the original Paper Jamz had, songs can be downloaded from a computer.
But Paper Jamz isn't the company's only priority. This year, it's also bringing two other brands to market, Light Strike, a laser tag game, and Lite Sprites, a line of fairy dolls.
Notably, none of these products costs more than $40 each. That's a huge difference from the product that sealed WowWee's reputation as a leader in robotics, Robosapian. The product was the first commericially available biomorphic robot, and it broke new ground when it was introduced in 2004.
However, in the wake of the recession, consumers don't have much of an appetite for $300, or even $100, robotic toys.
Paper Jamz is a good example of how WowWee found a way to take technology and commercialize it in an affordable way. The sensors used helped to make the product thinner and more responsive to the motions required to play a guitar.
Their microphone, which is expected to hit store shelves in August, also does a great job of improving a person's singing performance as they are singing—a point the company will be demonstrating at numerous marketing events this summer at Six Flags amusement parks in six cities in the U.S. and Canada and at minor league baseball games across the country, and on Radio Disney.
WowWee is also putting this strategy to work for Light Strike and Lite Sprites in order to get the word out, and it hopes, create excitement for the products, ahead of their launches in late July and August. The events should help because the "wow" factor of these two products may be a little harder to communicate than it was for Paper Jamz.
But there have been some positive reviews. Rosenberg said retailer support for Light Strike has been "phenomenal."
Tech blog Engadget described Light Strike as laser tag with a "Paper Jamz aesthetic," but WowWee's corporate pitch describes it as a way to bring "video game action into the real world."
One example of how it does that is by providing a player's health status on the guns. That's a detail that is very common in the videogame world, but not as common in other laser tag games.
The line includes a set of laser tag guns, which are priced starting at about $40, and accessories that feature fingerprint ID, long-range LED targeting, built-in health and ammo meters, and the ability to play with as many as four teams of unlimited size.
With Lite Sprites, the main attraction is a wand that is capable of picking up the color from any flat surface and transfering it to the Lite Sprite dolls and playsets.
Without the wand and the technology behind it, the toy might not be too much different from other fairy playsets. But the wand attempts to add a magical touch to captivate the imaginations of the young girls who make up the target audience for this product.
In order to do this, several patented technologies are being combined to detect the colors from surfaces and convery the color signal into a form that can be transmitted wirelessly to the toys and from toy to toy.
This week, WowWee is expected to launch a website that will help flesh out the stories of the characters in the product line. The site will tell the tale of four faires—Prisma, Meadow, Astra, and Brook—who live in Lite-Topia. There also is a fourth fairy, Bleak, who is a rebel and rejects color and uses her "powers" to disrupt the color of Lite-Topia.
To help explain all this, the company tapping into its network of bloggers, who will host pajama parties where girls aged four to nine years old can view a video that also tells the characters' stories, giving the kids a place to jump off from with their own tales they will create as they play.
Building buzz in the summer months is becoming a crucial part of how well toy sales fare in the months leading up to the all-important Christmas holiday season, when the bulk of toy sales occur.
And without a license such as Walt Disney's Tinker Bell to provide an automatic fan base from which to draw, Lite Sprites has a real challenge ahead of it.
But fortunately, in the wake of a big success such as Paper Jamz, retailers are often more likely to take a chance with a company's new product.
Then it's up to the kids to decide.
"You can't fool one seven-year-old and tell them that a toy is good if it's not," Rosenberg said.
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