Monday, September 16, 2019

Brand Awareness

And now some thoughts on the Toy Hall of Fame situation.

As I explained before, it doesn’t surprise me that Breyer didn’t make the Hall of Fame finalist list, again. That didn’t annoy me so much, but the fact that Care Bears – the very definition of a manufacturer-created fad – did, did.

My Little Pony or He-Man have similar origins, but they don’t bother me as much: aside from cultural relevancy, their fandoms exist somewhat independent of the companies that created them. They are also played with in ways not dreamed of by their manufacturers: for me, this is a key component in determining whether or not a toy truly fosters imaginative play.

One thing that these three properties do have that Breyers do not – and is probably the key factor in Breyer Horses continuing failure to make the ballot – is brand awareness. Just how many people know of the product, directly or indirectly?

Ask an average random person in the United States what My Little Pony, He-Man, or Care Bears are, and virtually everyone will know what you are talking about.

Breyers… don’t quite have that same level of recognition. But that will take a bit of explanation.

There are basically three levels when it comes to awareness of something – be it a thing or an idea.

First: there are people who are very familiar with the thing or idea.

Second: there are people who know nothing of the thing or idea.

Third: there are people who are vaguely familiar with the thing or idea – basically they know that it exists out there, but they don't know many particulars about it.

When it comes to Breyers in particular, and model horses in general, about 20% of people I know/meet in a day fall into the first category, those who immediately know what I am talking about. That's about one in five. (At the flea market, it's more like 80-90%)

About 20% of people know nothing about model horses, and will look at me like I am a crazy person when I go on about the topic. If they acknowledge the existence of toy horses, they immediately think either “My Little Pony” or “Barbie's Horse Dallas”.

Everybody else falls into the gray zone; conversations with these people usually start with something along the lines of “My sister/cousin/aunt/crazy Uncle Ned collected horses....” and end with “...and they threw them out/gave them to the neighbor's kids/sold them at a yard sale.”

Think about the Toy Story movies: Breyers were clearly implied in the second film when Jessie sings about her former life, but they were not mentioned by name:


I think that sums up the level of awareness that most people have about model horses in general, and Breyers in particular. Oh yeah, I remember those. What were they called, again?

But how do you go about fixing this problem?

I don’t think the availability of the product – or the lack thereof – is necessarily a big factor in the recognition issue. The horse-crazy kids know what Breyers are, even if they don’t necessarily have access to them financially or logistically.

The concept of “toy horses” is not difficult to sell to a larger public, either: that many (if not most) young girls go through a “horse phase” is practically a cliché.

I like to use the “dollar store” analogy: of you can get a knock-off of it at a dollar store, it’s something that has a fairly broad appeal. And you can get model horses – not very good ones, but “horses” nonetheless – at most dollar stores.

As far as the availability issue goes, Breyers as a brand can be tough to market, but that’s also because the retail market is a lot tougher these days: the stores that do have the shelf space would rather dedicate it to products that have a higher brand awareness – like My Little Pony.

My Little Pony managed to achieve this awareness – in part – by going small, creating a self-contained fantasy universe/playground much the way Star Wars did. 

Breyer has that to some degree, but the difference here is twofold. First, Breyer’s “playground” – the model horse hobby – is largely unknown outside of dedicated hobbyists: even among people who know or collect, many are either unfamiliar with it or intimidated by it.

Second, our “playground” is not a self-contained fantasy universe in the same way MLP, He-Man or Star Wars is: it’s basically Live-Action Role Playing (LARPing) of real horses – except where it isn’t (or can’t be). 

So how you go about fixing Breyer’s brand awareness problem?

Aside from encouraging horse-crazy kids to “buy Breyer”, you have to tell the people who were former horse-crazy kids that Breyers are here for them, too. After all, it’s right there in their mission statement:
Delivering the promise of a horse to everyone who dreams of one.
Everyone.

The new management at Reeves has been working on that mission statement, most visibly with last year’s New York Times article, the Imagine Entertainment deal announced a couple month back.

But these efforts so far have been targeted towards kids. That’s great (and necessary, obviously!) but ultimately a brand awareness solution needs to include a plan to engage those who were horse-crazy kids “once upon a time”, but may still harbor deep-seated fantasies of horse ownership.

Letting them know that they can have the horse of their dreams and “play” with them like the real thing? That could be huge. If think the horse-crazy kids who attend BreyerFest for the first time are a joy to behold, seeing the ones who discover (or rediscover) it as adults is downright revelatory.

In short: while “brand awareness” alone should never be enough for inclusion in the Toy Hall of Fame, I think it is one of the primary things holding Breyer Horses back from even being nominated. I think that can be overcome by not just marketing to current horse-crazy kids, but also former (now vintage?) horse-crazy kids.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Halloween Surprises

As I expected, Breyer was not on the list of finalists for the Toy Hall of Fame. I have some thoughts and feelings about this, but rather than have it turn into a rant about Care Bears, I’ll give myself a few more days for a more nuanced post.

In the meantime, we can talk about the Halloween stuff they released to Collector’s Club members today:


We’ve already knew about the Spooky Stablemates and the Samhain; however, the plush Boo (above) and the Classic* Mason Salem were new.

I’m trying to avoid even considering any Traditional-scale Halloween items right now – there is no space here at the moment – and Plushes are not an option as long as Vita roams the house.

The Stablemates were a no-brainer the moment I saw them at BreyerFest, of course. I love all three, but I do hope at least one of the two I’m getting is the Mini Ichabod Rivet, because you know how much I love glow-in-the-dark stuff.

And that’s why I ended up buying the Salem, too. At first I thought that he was cute and well-executed – a Decorator Pinto pattern with cat silhouettes and paw prints and purple interference! – but not necessarily a must-have.

Then I saw that it was glow-in-the-dark, too, and I was well, so much for setting aside some funds for a new sewing machine this week….

I do want to object to how this program was marketed, though. It was on Instagram, on Twitter, on Facebook… everywhere except the one place I actually check on a (somewhat) daily basis: my e-mail.

I am glad that these items were basically open stock items and of a sufficiently large enough quantity that they were still available when I actually had the opportunity to peruse the Internet – eight hours later.

Please do not let this be a trend: people do not need any more encouragement to stare at their phones as it is. I’ve never been more lonely than when I’ve found myself sitting at a table eating lunch with friends or coworkers, and every single one of them is staring into their phones like the rest of the world (or me!) does not exist.

Not all of us are attached to our cellphones 24/7 – in fact, I barely use it at all, and usually only for emergencies. And yes, I am also appalled that “Smartphones” made the Hall of Fame shortlist. But more about that next time…

(*Look, I still call “Paddock Pals” Little Bits. But at least it kinda-sorta makes sense. Renaming the Classics Series the Freedom Series just borders on the random and nonsensical.) 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Boundaries

It was a pretty good day at the flea market, all things considered:


This wasn’t all of it, just the most interesting bits. (Looks like I’ll be doing that Christmas-themed Western Horse custom after all!) The ceramic Dinosaur came out of a box lot of figurines that one of my regular vendors gave me a sweet deal on, and the MiniWhinnies were in a bag of Schleichs and other plastic/rubber toys.

In other words, it looks like I am well on my way towards restocking my Dollar Table for next year!

(Before you ask: that Dimetrodon is definitely staying.)

Normally I’d be way more excited about the two aquarium figurines I found, but I happened to watch a video of the auction I had to miss on Saturday, and there were dozens (dozens!) of vintage ones there sold in box lots. I hoped a few of them would have shown up at the flea market but alas, I had to content myself with just these two.

I am a cheapskate, so buying them piecemeal on eBay or at antique shows/malls is not my preferred option.

How much is too much? I won’t pay more than five dollars per piece usually, and it has to be pretty special to me to cough up a fiver (or more) for it.

In comparison, my model horse spending limit is $350 for a single item. Not counting the two “Exclusive Events” I’ve attended, and all of the associated costs of BreyerFest, I think I’ve come close to that limit maybe two or three times?

However, relatively speaking, it is really quite a low boundary – especially when you consider how my tastes run.

While I don’t begrudge hobbyists who have higher spending tolerances, I sometimes do find myself casting a slightly skeptical eye their way. I’ve been in this hobby (and a few others) long enough to be wary of folks who spend a lot of money in relatively short periods of time: I have sometimes seen it not… end well, not just for the person or persons involved, but the hobby as well.

One of the foundational aspects of the model horse hobby was that it was an affordable alternative to the “real” horse world, and I’d hate to see price escalation push people away.

But this is also one of the reasons why I got into researching Breyer History in the first place: while I will probably never be comfortable competing with money, competing with knowledge I can totally do. And one of the reasons this blog exists is so that you can, too. 

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Hamilton, and Occam’s Razor

Sorry for my relative absence the past week or so guys – things kind of got crazy there for a few days, and there were some lingering aftereffects from the whatever-I-had last week still causing me some inconveniences.

And consequently all my best laid plans for the weekend went out the window.

Although there was no auction or antique show for me today, I did get a chance to see some pretty horses. But that’s a long story, and time is short today.

Let’s (briefly) talk about another thing that flew past me in the week before and of BreyerFest: the Premier Club Hamilton!


He is lovely and makes me wish I had joined the Premier Club this year. When the first sneak preview picture was making the rounds the weekend before BreyerFest, I took one look at it (below), and the first (and only!) logical explanation that popped into my head: well, duh, that’s a Saddlebred. 


Conceptually, it also made sense because Reeves has slowly been “updating” their lineup, replacing Vintage molds of popular breeds with more modern ones. And no Vintage mold has fallen more out of favor than the original rough-and-chunky Five-Gaiter, who I sometimes refer to as “The Racking Drafter”.

In short: he was due for an update. 

So I was surprised (to say the least) at the number of people contorting themselves into explanations of how it could be... almost anything but a Saddlebred.

Occam’s Razor, people: the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Not always, but usually.

I need to stumble into bed here in a few moments, so I’ll close with a photo of one of my favorite Five-Gaiters from my collection, a Sample of the Regular Run CH Sprinkles release I picked up in the NPOD a few years ago:


He’s a Sample because you can tell in person that he’s a he, and not a she. And he is one of my favorites because his paint job is even more amazing in person!

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Stablemates Labor Day Roundup

That was a surprisingly productive weekend, considering I was on cold medication through most of it. Wrapped up another quilting project, finishing prepping another, and made considerable progress on a third. And I am almost caught up on all my “stories”, too – just one more series left to binge and I’m good!

I managed to get a little shopping done, too – behold my mighty Stablemates Hoard:


The Blue and Lavender Unicorn Alborozos are from Tractor Supply, and all the candy-colored Unicorns are from the latest Walmart Unicorn Chase – except the actual Chase piece, of course, because collectors around here are locusts, I swear.

Although I like the Rainbow Sherbet Magnolia Chase piece better than the previous “Halloween Florentine” Magnolia Chase, I’m not going out of my way to get one, either. I’ll find it when I find it, or do without.

I’m just happy that the Alborozo isn’t, for a change, making him the easiest one for me to acquire so far. Funny how that works! (When are we going to get plain old Regular Run on him, I wonder?)

And lest I forget, here’s my Stablemates Club Iris – much to my surprise, I received the Decorator Mojave Turquoise:


The Blue Unicorn Magnolia came along for the ride; I hadn’t bought any of that particular series of Blind Bag Unicorns yet, so I was going to be fine with whatever showed up. All the non-Chase pieces in that series seem pretty plentiful actually, so I’ll pick up the rest at the time and pace of my choosing.

Incidentally, I passed by opportunities to purchase a couple of small horse collections in the past week – I’m juggling just a little bit too much stuff right now to take on anything beyond Stablemates and necessities. (Yes, I know, for some of us they are one and the same.) 

Oh, and I did go to the annual town book sale and I did... okay? Nothing really worth reporting there, except that my book sales stash was pretty depleted after BreyerFest, and now it’s not.

There is a slight chance I’ll be swinging by a farm auction or antique show next weekend, though: I haven’t been to either in ages, and it’s more about the people-watching and gauging the market than about the actual shopping. Finding stuff to buy is just a bonus.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

The Second IBM

When it comes to collectibles, rarest is such a loaded word: in a hobby where 25-30 Test Colors are distributed yearly, even being unique doesn’t guarantee value or even interest.

For an item to be truly valuable nowadays, there has to be more to it than mere rarity or uniqueness.

Prior to the early 1990s, Marney Walerius’s original Gray Appaloosa In-Between Mare qualified on both counts: it was not only (apparently) unique, but historically significant as Breyer’s first failed attempt at replacing the Old Mold Mare in their product lineup after the legal dispute with Hagen-Renaker.


Then a second piece – a Woodgrain, this time – showed up in California in the early 1990s, and turned the hobby on its head. What was once an unattainable oddity was now, hypothetically, available. It was no longer a thing that could be acquired and owned by one person sequentially, it could actually be something that could be collected by multiple hobbyists.


So ironically, by being less “rare”, the In-Between Mare probably became even more valuable!

I don’t have any idea about the exact number of In-Between Mares floating around the hobby, because of the simple fact that many hobbyists have a hard time distinguishing the Family Arabian Mare from the Old Mold/Proud Arabian Mare: a mold that bridges that gap could also be sitting in many collections completely unrecognized.

It is just not rare enough that I still have hopes of finding one on the secondary market, someday: a “new” one turns up on the market every four-five years or so, more often than some other items I can think of (#82 Donkey with Baskets, ahem.)

I had a momentarily breathless moment a few weeks ago when I spotted a Woodgrain FAM at a local flea market, from a far enough distance that I thought my moment had come, but she wasn’t so it didn’t.

I didn’t have the $1000 to hit the “Buy It Now” option on a Woodgrain IBM on eBay a few years back, and I certainly don’t have the money to buy the one up for auction now.

Not that I hadn’t given it some thought: the Woodgrain at auction is that “second” piece I mentioned/pictured above. I would love to have something with that kind of provenance and historical import, but alas, my bank account still says Not Today.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Overwhelming, Part Two: The Predicting

I was going to get all fancy with this post and pull out the big words and the big thoughts, but I seem to be coming down with something and all I want to do at this point is eat a bowl of ice cream and go to bed.

So here’s a few relatively unorganized predictions for BreyerFest next year. The usual caveats apply: these are just predictions. I have no special insights or actual intel into what’s actually happening next year, but as you may have seen (sometimes in real time!) I apparently do have some inkling of how they think at Breyer HQ. Which freaks me out as much as you guys, guys.

(Though I was genuinely shocked to discover that many hobbyists did not even have the Moody Andalusian on their radar for this year’s Surprise. That one seemed… pretty obvious?)

The “Celtic Fling” theme is broad enough to include most breeds originating in the vicinity of the British Isles, but for all practical purposes most people are going to interpret it as “Irish”. This is a darn shame but there’s nothing I can do to change public opinion, especially as a decidedly non-Gaelic person. I just hope that – as has been the case in some themes previous – that stereotypes are not necessarily given the nod when various prizes and awards are handed out.

Breeds that immediately come to mind: most of the ponies that occupy/originate in that part of the world, Gypsy Vanners/Drum Horses, Irish Warmbloods and Thoroughbreds.

Possible Special Run molds: Croi Damsha, Brishen/Gypsy Vanner. Rhian & Cadell, True North, Bristol, Cantering Welsh Pony, Bouncer, Fell Pony Emma, Newsworthy, the Show Jumping Warmblood, and just for kicks and giggles, the Bluegrass Bandit.

There is a slight possibility that there might be an Othello, but not as a Surprise. A Decorator, maybe….

Celebration Horse: The Croi or the Brishen are most likely, absent any other evidence.

Surprise Model: See Celebration Horse. I prefer the Brishen because it comes with multiple mane and tail options, and isn’t so popular that it’ll cause an epic hobby meltdown. I also think Bluegrass Bandit is a possibility because it’s come in Translucent before, and hasn’t had so many releases that all the color combos have been exhausted. And there is always one mold that makes us go really, now?

Decorator(s): There are lots of options here. Something Book of Kells-themed? Fairies? Kelpies? Or something stereotypically green, with shamrocks et al? (Experience has told me, alas, that when in doubt, the stereotype usually wins out.)

Something Gold Charm is also not out of the question – as a reference to Celtic/Fairy/Leprechaun (ugh) Gold. I could also see this as part of a Surprise-Surprise (see below).

Nonhorse: I’d be happy with almost anything except another Bull, except for the #365 Black Angus Bull in something different or daring because it’s time, dangnabit. I’d rather it be an Irish Donkey on the old Standing Donkey mold, but I am probably dreaming at this point. (Would make an excellent Pop-Up Store item. Just sayin’.)

Surprise-Surprises: Next year is another anniversary – Breyer’s 70th, as they count it – and I doubt they will let that fact go completely unrecognized. I am unsure they want to pull the same stunt they did this year with the bazillion Micro Run variations, but I wouldn’t rule out a Golden Charm-type Surprise of that nature, either.

But that’s also why I think it’s more likely they’ll honor the anniversary with a Vintage mold or two, either as a Tent or a Pop-Up Special Run. Right now my money is on the Cantering Welsh Pony, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see something like the Bell-bottomed Shire, Running Mare, or even the Jumping Horse. (Or, as I mentioned above, the Donkey.)

One-Day Stablemates: I have no idea, but names from myth and legend wouldn’t be unexpected – like Morrigan, Boudicca, Danu, Epona, etc. (Hmm. Maybe they can slip the G1 molds in here as their Vintage tribute? That would be fun, she says only slightly sarcastically…)

Random Thoughts: other things that might be worked into the theme include whiskey, golf, minstrels and bards, Saint Patrick, and my favorite (of course!) – something referencing the cult classic movie Highlander.

And for something completely offbeat: Special Run Wind Dancers. Because fairies. More likely: the Wind Dancer Plush, for the Pop-Up Store Plushie.

I could go on with some suggestions and improvements to the event itself, but as there has been a ton of news, new releases and whatnot in the past week, I’ll leave that on the table for another time.

(Yes, I saw THAT thing on eBay. I have thoughts, and feelings.)