Mutant alien toy line tests the water in Pittsburgh

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The Crashlings have landed in Pittsburgh, an early invasive foray meant to use southwestern Pennsylvania life forms to prove their power to conquer the upcoming Christmas shopping season.

The new line of collectible toys featuring “meteor mutants from outer space” created by Wicked Cool Toys, which has an office in Philadelphia, is expected to get maximum exposure in the Pittsburgh region through the kind of television commercials that drive kids to push their parents to buy — and that drive parents crazy.

Just how much the rest of the country sees of these little aliens may depend on how closely Pittsburghers embrace the concept. Television spots were set to start airing Monday and run in heavy rotation for four weeks.

“We’re literally showing our retail partners how big Crashlings is going to be on TV in the fall,” said Jeremy Padawer, co-president and partner in Wicked Cool Toys. “If we show them now, they can set their orders accordingly.”

Wicked Cool Toys is just one of many players in the toy market. Retail consulting firm NPD Group calculated the market for action figures alone last year at $1.4 billion. Total toy spending exceeded $22 billion last year, the Port Washington, N.Y., firm found.

This time of year, offerings for the next season have generally made the rounds of the various toy fairs and companies are lining up orders for the holiday season.

Wicked Cool Toys does about 60 percent of its business in licensed toys with brands like Disney, Nickelodeon and DC Comics, but the goal is to develop its own products, too. The Crashlings, which debuted this year in New Zealand and Australia, mark the company’s first effort to launch a product driven by TV advertising.

“There are ingredients that make a great collectible,” said Mr. Padawer, who works from Santa Monica, Calif. The new toys have been designed to try to include all of them.

Like having more than 150 pieces, the better to keep kids coming back for more.

• Like having a “popping” meteor so the toys do more than just sit on a shelf gathering dust. “If you’re not selling something that’s fun, consumers will buy one and then it’s done,” said Mr. Padawer.

• And like being inexpensive. Prices should start at around $2 for individual pieces, but buy enough of those and it would start to add up.

The Pittsburgh demo is being seeded with about 100 limited-edition characters stocked into area stores randomly. That will only matter if kids actually decide they want to collect the toys. That happened with Beanie Babies and Pokemon cards, but numerous other attempts at creating that kind of demand didn’t go as well.

Mr. Padawer said the merchandise put into the region’s Toys R Us stores had started selling even before the TV spots were set to start. But that wouldn’t prove the point that his company needed to make — that the promotional campaign would be powerful enough to cut through the mass of commercials that will come around the holiday season.

Even if the Crashlings take over, don't expect them to keep control forever. “The toy business is very much like the fashion business,” Mr. Padawer said. There’s always another toy, another game waiting in the wings to grab kids’s attention.

Teresa F. Lindeman: or at 412-263-2018.

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