Rewind: Check Out This Wham-O Hula-Hoop Commercial From 1977
In the previous installment of Rewind, we checked out a black-and-white cereal ad from the 1960's starring Andy Griffith. This time, we travel in time to the following decade to see how a classic American toy was marketed: the Hula Hoop.
With its opening scene, this ad -- which ran in 1977, several years after the Hula Hoop was first introduced in the United States by toy company Wham-O -- goes for an element of surprise, for a moment keeping under wraps just what's being advertised. Then, hilariously, the spot endeavors to show hooping not only as a fun thing to do with your friends on your driveway, but also as a way to exercise while multitasking and doing other activities, such as combing your hair or waitressing. Towards the end, the spot features world champion Hula-Hooper Mat Plendl, who as a child won national competitions and took his act to TV, including as a repeat guest on "The Tonight Show" when Johnny Carson was hosting it as well as sports half-time shows. He was young at the time this spot was filmed, and today he continues to perform out in California.
The company that made the Hula Hoop into a national craze was started by a pair of kooky guys, Arthur "Spud" Melin and Richard Knerr. In the annals of toy marketing, they'll go down as the kings of the fad. Wham-O was founded in 1948 and is still very much in operation today, and the brands launched under its banner include some of the most popular toys in history.
What gave Wham-O its name was sound that its first big toy, the Slingshot, made when it hit its target . What came next was a plastic version of what's believed to have ancient origins. Hula hooping got its name from the traditional Hawaiian dance, but it's thought to have been a form of play and used for fitness back in ancient Greece, when the hoops were made of dried vines or grasses. Historical records also show the use of a hoop in 13th-century Scotland for both recreation and religious ceremonies, and even use by doctors on their patients to treat back problems.
According to Wham-O, Messrs. Melin and Knerr would try out products directly with potential buyers and they were especially dedicated to the launch of the Hula Hoop, which they promoted for months in 1958 on Southern California playgrounds, doing demonstrations and giving away hoops to children. Their persistence paid off, because 25 million of them were sold in a span of four months.
Some other toys you'd recognize that are part of the Wham-O family include the Frisbee, which was invented by a man named Fred Morrison and sold to Wham-O in 1955. It was originally introduced to the consumer market in 1957 as the Pluto Platter -- a nod to the then-obessession with UFOs -- but was modified and renamed the Frisbee in the late '50s. In 1961, Wham-O came out with that classic warm-weather backyard toy, Slip 'n Slide, and during the 1960s, it claims to have sold some 20 million Superball Bouncy Balls. Later additions include the foot-fad Hacky Sack, and Bubble Thing, a toy that created monstrous sized bubbles.
There were some ones that didn't stick, too, like the a do-it-your-self bomb shelter, a limbo party kit with instructions on how to do the dance, and great-white-shark teeth that were pegged to the debut of the movie "Jaws" in 1975.
Wham-O at one point was owned by Mattel, but was sold in the '90s. Today it is based in Emeryville, Ca. and owned by a company called Cornerstone.
Hula hoops aren't as popular as they were when that classic 70's ad was running, but they're not totally extinct either. In fact, first lady Michelle Obama helped to resurrect them as a fun exercise method when she displayed her hooping skills on the South Lawn a few years ago.
Along with some of its other friends from back in the day -- including the Radio Flyer Wagon, the Duncan Yo-Yo, Lincoln Logs, Etch-A-Sketch, and Barbie -- the Hula Hoop was in the first class of inductees into the National Toy Hall of Fame , based in Rochester, New York.