A red-faced, sweaty man with spittle foaming at the corner of his mouth, clutches two store associates by the collar. He is willing the toys his children most desire to magically materialize so he won’t do something he regrets to these blue-smocked sales reps and end up spending the holidays in a tiny jail cell with drunken Santas. We’ve all heard stories about parents tackling each other in the dolly aisle, or throwing punches over a bin of stuffies… but have you ever considered what types of fad toys set civilized citizens into crazed crowds? In no particular order…
This vivacious vegetable started as a real potato with plastic parts – Habro’s Mr. Potato Head 1952 was the first toy with its own TV commercial directed at kids. 60 years later, Mr. Potato Head, along with multiple reinventions of his character, thrive on store shelves!
Skanky Barbie-wannabes with fishnet stockings, feather boas and pillow lips – the hyper-sexualized Bratz dolls hit the market in 2001 and were then pulled from the market in 2008 due to copyright infringement. Get ready – they’re set for a re-launch in the near future.
In 2009, coloured rubber band bracelets that bounce back into shape when they’re not being worn, snapped in popularity across the country. Tell me this guy wasn’t a marketing genius! Silly bandz became so popular, schools had to start banning them because they were too distracting.
Teddy Ruxpin was a disturbing teddy toy made in the mid-1980s. This weird wonder was an automated bear that used cartridges to tell kids stories. Was this the dawn of technology taking the place of parents? And I wonder, what kind of stories it told after the lights went out?
Is it a gremlin? An alien? A mutant koala bear? This creepy critter, Furby, spoke its own language and “learned” English as kids played with them. From 1998-2000, more than 40 million Furbies were sold during three years of original production. And the new Fury, re-introduced in 2012, costs twice as much as the original.
Zhu Zhu Pets (2009) – Colourful interactive (sickeningly cute) toy hamsters that don’t smell…make one of 40 noises (based on your interaction) from purrs to squeaks. Best part is…they sleep through the night and you won’t get poop pellets stuck to the bottom of your socks! I have guinea pigs…I know…
Webkinz had an online component. Cuddly stuffed animals came with a secret entrance code into the Webkinz World website. Kids played and took care of a virtual version of their animal. The more time they spent online, the more “kinzcash” they earned to buy extras, like room décor and swimming pools. Online play expires after a year so to keep playing, you have to keep buying.
Before Webkinz (2005), we had Beanie Babies (mid-1990s). Animal-shaped bean bags! New ones came out as some “retired”; special edition beanie babies created extravagant prices among collectors. I have a small plastic tub in the basement (belonging to Big Guy).
What about a digital pet rock? Tamagotchi was an egg-shaped handheld virtual pet that required food, medicine, sleep, playtime, and poop-scooping. Big Guy had one – it lived in my desk drawer at work during the work week so I could keep it alive. Failure to take care of it and it died. Less traumatic for your kid? I guess it depends on your kid…
Video games are likely at the top of most lists this year, and it all started with the Atari 2600 – in 1979 it created mass hysteria when parents scrambled to find it. Game Boy (1991) promised a more affordable price and longer battery life, and got most of us addicted to Tetris. It lives on as Nintendo 3DS.
Pogs, like jacks, was a game that had been around a long time but gained popularity in the ’90s, with “themes” discs. Themes included movies, sports, world leaders and anti-drug messages. Doesn’t that sound “cool”?! Bakugan and Pokemon are more modern yet equally complicated card games involving “battle play” and coming to us with complex backstories from cartoon and anime series. Both products have morphed into other product areas, including television. In 1997 more than 600 children in Japan were hospitalized by seizures brought on by a Pokemon episode – thankfully it has never been seen again (unlike these creatures…)
This iconic 3-D puzzle has been around since 1980, with more than 350 million sold worldwide – Rubik’s Cube. In its first year 5 million Rubik’s Cubes were sold. The world record for solving the puzzle was set in 2008, with a time of 7.08 seconds. I solved mine by carefully peeling off and sticking the coloured square stickers back on.
I thought my brother had made it up – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael came out of their shells in the late 80s and early 90s. The turtles originally came to life in comic books before expanding into toys, games, videos and four feature films. Not back for crime-fighting reptiles.
This little red puppet must have psychotomimetic abilities because I’m at a loss to explain how Tickle Me Elmo became an over-night success. Tickle Me Elmo, a giggling, vibrating plush toy version of the red furry monster, was introduced in 1996. Elmo wasn’t expected to sell so well so supplies were limited. When the toy was featured on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, sales soared leading to black market sales in the hundreds of dollars. In 2006, Tickle Me Extreme was released. It was a hysterical version that rolled on the floor, begged the tickler for mercy (Why would I want a toy that reminded me of the tickle torture inflicted on me by my big brother ?) . It was unveiled live on Good Morning America.
Last but not least – I wanted one desperately – my parents were looking, my aunt was looking…and they kept missing that next shipment. They ended up with two (one was sold to another desperate Dad) – and I cried that Christmas when I opened the box. Pug-nosed Cabbage Patch Kids were all the rage in the mid-80s. Parents fought parents and shipments arrived at stores in armoured cars. Every doll had a belly button and a tattoo on one butt-cheek of the creator’s signature (Xavier Roberts). You didn’t just buy a Cabbage Patch kid, you adopted one. Every doll came with a name but if you sent in the paperwork (especially if you were changing the name) to receive your personalized birth certificate. Cabbage Patch Kids are re-appearing, and I bet marketers are banking on nostalgic sales to middle-aged Moms like me…
My youngest wants a tablet or an ipad…boy, is he going to be disappointed this Christmas?
Do you have or desperately desire to have any of these toys? I’d love to hear your “story”!
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