Bargain-rate Buzz

Awards can bulk up modest marketing budgets


Evening the playing field: How smaller manufacturers can compete with their deep pocket competitors


Part 1: The Awards Programs


By Richard Gottlieb


The television advertising and licensing industries have a virtual monopoly on access to the mass market toy shelf.  But does that surprise us? No, of course it doesn’t.  After all, it’s become the American way.


In the United States, certain institutions have control over the gateways to success.  For example, if you want to become a lawyer you have to go to law school or if you wish to become a doctor you, of course, have to go to medical school.  We take this for granted, but it was not always the case.  You used to be able to apprentice and in fact you can still “read the law” in seven states and, by doing so, bypass law school and that $100,000 price tag. 


So, if we take a step back, we can see that, despite those seven states, the education industry has a virtual monopoly over access to most professions.  Pretty good deal for the education industry.  Not so great for everyone else. 


What does this have to do with toys?  Actually, it has quite a bit to do with it. Let’s ask ourselves this question:  What industries have control over access to the mass market toy departments?


Take a look at any major toy department and you will immediately see that the vast majority of products on the shelf either bear powerful licenses or have a great deal of television behind them.  Based upon this empirical evidence, we could probably make a pretty good case that the television and licensing industries have close to a monopoly on access to the mass market toy shelf. 


This means that, just like that aspiring law student who will need to find $100,000 to pay for law school,  a toy manufacturer has to either have some mighty deep pockets, have some rich and loving friends and family or be prepared to go into debt. 


So what is a small or even mid-sized company to do if it wants to enter the mass market and does not have access to capital?  What if it simply can’t afford television advertising or hot licenses?


In a series of articles I will be considering that question and looking at alternative ways to go to market that may take a bit longer but are ultimately affordable.  This article will center on the awards industry; a great way to generate buzz about a product for a surprisingly reasonable amount of money.


The Awards Industry

The awards industry is comprised of eleven plus entities that measure the play value of toys and issue awards accordingly.  Winning means that a toy manufacturer gets to (for a cost) attach their award sticker on the front of their package and take advantage of the impact such a win has on the award givers considerable following.  So win an award, create buzz, generate sales in the specialty markets and you may be able to overcome the lack of television and licensing and entice a mass market retailer to put you on the shelf.


I wanted to know more about the prize industry so I spoke with Lisa Orman.  And who is Lisa Orman?  For those few of you who aren’t familiar with Lisa, she runs one of the toy industry’s top PR agencies, KidStuff Public Relations, and she is a big believer in awards.  In fact, her clients tend to be big winners.


Lisa says that the various awards programs, though different in how they assess products, all share the commonality that poorly made or designed products don’t win awards.  Only well made toys do.


Therefore, if you win an award, it means something to the specialty retail market and to a coterie of parents who, in the thousands, follow the various awards and take their lead in what they purchase.


There are a number of excellent awards programs to pick from and each offers something unique.  Here is how Lisa, who has entered her clients in the programs for 14 years, describes them:


  • Dr. Toy” is the oldest of the awards programs and, Stevanne Auerbach a.k.a. “Dr. Toy,” is deservedly famous for the passion she brings to the process. 


  • “Parents’ Choice Foundation” is the second oldest, at 28 years, of the awards programs and is a not-for-profit.  They are oriented toward educational products.  Products receive an award when it is determined that children can easily understand, on their own, how to play with a toy or game.


  • “Toys Tips” is a magazine run by Marianne Szymanski and is the only awards program that charges no fees of any kind. Marianne features the entries in her magazine.  She grades products on several parameters and prints the report card in the magazine with her product reviews.


  • “The Toy Man” charges nothing to submit products to his review process. His is not really an award program, but once submitted, some products are inducted with “The Toy Man” Seal of Approval. As of this writing, this award is the only one that includes reference to country of origin.  They also can be honored with “The Toy Man Award of Excellence” and “Editor’s Choice Award.” He charges a small, optional fee for his digital license and provides the lengthiest and most in-depth reviews. 


  • iParenting” is unique in that if you don’t win, you can read the reviewers’ comments to find out why. This allows you to learn from the process and come back with a better product. They also allow submitters to ask a custom question of the reviewers that does not impact their score, so it’s like a mini focus group.


  • “Oppenheim Toy Portfolio” is unique in that its editors are regular guest toy experts on the Today Show.  They have published a book annually for 15 years about their winners.  Being an Oppenheim platinum winner can mean that you will get national exposure for your toy.


  • The 17-year-old “National Parenting Center” says it has 100,000 visitors to its site, and it recognizes a range of product, including juvenile gear and parenting resources, and not just toys.


  • NAPPA (“National Parenting Publications Awards”) issues “Gold” and “Honors” awards. Its Gold winners are published in many of the regional parenting magazines across the country.


Other awards worth mentioning, each with their own niche, are “Creative Child” magazine’s “Toy of the Year,” “Amazing Toy Awards” from “” and “Mr. Dad Seal of Approval.”  There are also many specialized contests aimed at gifted or special needs children, teachers and others.


So, what does it cost to enter the awards process?  Lisa says that if you enter every award contest for all cycles of the year it will cost you no more than $3,000, which is far cheaper than running an ad one time.  If you win, however, there are usually further costs.  You will have to pay anywhere from $100 to $1000, depending on the award, for the stickers (which can either be real stickers or a digital license that allows you to print right on your package).


Lisa thinks that the awards processes for all of these programs are rigorous and valuable.  She is proud that a large number of her clients win these awards.  Her only criticism of the process is that the costs for seals or licenses are not always transparent and some winners do not know to allocate the additional cost into their budgets.


Even so, the price of this marketing approach is highly affordable for most companies and is a rare value in the toy industry.   Take a hard look at the awards industry.   It may help you even the playing field . . . a little.




Amazing Toy Awards:


Creative Child Magazine:


Dr. Toy:


iParenting Media Awards:


Mr. Dad Seal of Approval:


National Parenting Publications Awards:


Oppenheim Toy Portfolio:


Parents’ Choice Foundation:


The National Parenting Center:


The Toy Man:


Toys Tips:





Richard Gottlieb is president of Richard Gottlieb & Associates LLC, a provider of business development services. He has 35 years experience in the toy industry in sales and sales management. He can be reached at