Toy story: Nostalgia sells big

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The `80s are back, and not just on the fashion runways-at the toy stores, too.

Some of the toys kids are asking for this holiday season are Reagan-era retreads: My Little Pony, Care Bears, Cabbage Patch Kids and Strawberry Shortcake. A survey by the National Retail Federation found both Care Bears and My Little Pony are expected to be among the top 10 toys given to girls this holiday season. The trade publication Toy Wishes listed items from Care Bears, My Little Pony, Strawberry Shortcake and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy lines among its 2003 All Star list.

"The first generation of Toys 'R' Us kids are growing up to be parents. That breeds an appeal for classics," said Warren Kornblum, chief marketing officer at Toys 'R' Us. The retailer has an exclusive deal with Mattel to sell the reissued Cabbage Patch Kids. It has set up "adoption" areas in its stores to sell the dolls, which come with individual adoption papers.

"There's a magic in this 20-year cycle," said Jay Foreman, CEO of Play Along Toys, which is reissuing Care Bears. The same little girls ages 2 to 10 who played with Care Bears 20 years ago, are now 22 through 32 and have children of their own. They find warm-fuzzy toys such as Strawberry Shortcake and Care Bears more acceptable for their kids than other, edgier playthings, he said.

Play Along tried a dual strategy aimed at parents and kids for the relaunch of Care Bears, working on editorial placement in parenting and lifestyle magazines while advertising on kids' TV to reach the children. American Greetings, the owner of the brand, initially authorized only a small batch of fashion accessories such as key chains to sell via gift stores, and when they caught on with teens and tweens, the company agreed to license a full line of toys.

the same appeal

"The things that appeal to kids today are the same as 20 years ago," such as the individualization of the Cabbage Patch dolls, said Robbin Jaklin, president of C&R Research. The Chicago-based research company regularly polls a group of more than 12,000 kids.

But the toy marketers are quick to note they're not counting on retro chic or parental nostalgia alone to push sales.

"There is a substantial am- ount of marketing support to ingratiate the new generation with some of these icons," said Bob O'Keefe, VP-marketing at the Toy Industry Association.

For all their retro appeal with parents, the kids have to be sold on the toys as if they were new, said Mr. Foreman. Parents may do the shopping, but the kids' letters to Santa are their main guides, he said.

"Parents are important with this age group up to a point...[but] kids are really the driver. They make their list," said Ira Hernowitz, general manager of Hasbro's First Fun division, which markets My Little Pony.

Hasbro put a "significant effort" behind the launch of My Little Pony, with TV spots, in-store promotion and gifts with purchase, he said. Mr. Hernowitz wouldn't disclose the spending, but said it is on par or above other Hasbro product launches.

"It's always nice to start with a brand equity ... but when you get to the little girl, it might as well be brand new," he said.

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