A recent study by UBS and ARG found that one third of the American parents surveyed said it was hard to find toys and gifts because nothing was new.
What they're actually saying is that there's no mad rush for the "it" gift, the safe, coveted gift that demonstrates the giver was able to finagle a favor or brave a crush of shoppers. The notion of the one, the it, the winner, the safe choice–this is about buying without taking responsibility.
Clearly, there are as many new and wonderful things this season as there are each year, all that's missing is an anointed toy of the year. The masses want to buy what the masses have chosen as the winner, because then the purchase isn't their fault.
And that's what happens every day in just about every market, business or consumer. A few people want to take responsibility, go first, lead the way, be choosy, inquire, find the remarkable, the magical and own the outcome. But most? They just don't want it to be their fault.
The lack of a clear winner in the toy biz is a symptom of a move to weird (without mass TV, etc., selecting the one clear winner gets more difficult). There's still a crowd, still groups looking for the safe choice, but the trend to weird has dispersed them into smaller pockets.
It is also a useful reminder to marketers that within every sector, there's a huge advantage to the organization that's seen as the choice of the crowd. A self-fulfilling prophecy, no doubt about it.
Unfair or not, one Catch-22 truism remains: popular is often a prerequisite for being popular.