In hard economic times, toys of yesteryear strike a chord

by Michael Smith

In these days of recession and economic hard times may people have to count their dollars and even pennies this Christmas season and hence some clued-up parents are trying to avoid buying high-priced techno gadgets for their children.

Instead many are looking back to their own childhood and are buying for their children those ageless classics such as “Lincoln Logs” or other such toys, including the good old Daisy airguns.

Airguns are always a good bet for boys and girls alike and the use of a Daisy under supervision – at least for starters – will teach them to be responsible shooters and anyone, so I have found, who was taught how to shoot from an early age is very unlikely to ever commit a crime with a gun. The same is true for anyone who has used a knife from earliest childhood, especially if he or she comes from a true knife culture.

Having said this, a good pocketknife also is a time-honored gift and I sure remember how proud I was of the first folding knife that I was ever given, even though this was a used one. That made no difference to the appreciation of the present and I still have that knife to this very day.

Without an apparent definite “must-have” toy fad this season and with parents facing a deteriorating economy, tried-and-true toys are being embraced by parents and toy makers alike - what one analyst calls a "back to the toy box" approach.

I think that this is a step that has not come before time. It was about time we all woke up to the fact that the gadget toys that the advertising media tell us and especially our children that they MUST have are nothing that will last. It is just a fad and that's it. Period.

I remember the few toys – real toys – that I had but one thing there was that I loves, aside from the old wooden tractor and caravan it pulled (both of which were held together by more glue than anything else, I think) and that was the small Mecano set that I had and with which I build so many things.

Without a defnite, as I have said, "must-have" toy fad this holiday season, and with parents facing a deteriorating economy, tried-and-true toys are being embraced by parents and toy makers alike - what one analyst calls a "back to the toy box" approach.

"'Retro' or 'nostalgia' toys can be viewed as the 'comfort food' of the toy industry, and I do think folks naturally gravitate to what made them happy when they were young or what is familiar to them," said Anita Frazier, a toy analyst at NPD Group, a market research firm.

Ken Moe, general manager of, a Web site owned by Scholastic Corp. that offers classic toys like "Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robots," Slinky and Colorforms, said sales so far this season indicate a rising interest in old favorites.

Though most sales will occur over the next few weeks, Moe said Junior TinkerToys, Lincoln Logs and toy instruments have been among the big sellers in the past few months.

Parents are not the only ones looking again at classic toys. Toy makers also are turning to the old standbys as they face not only weakening toy sales but also steep prices for commodities like resin used to make many toys and tough competition from electronic gadgets.

Classic toys could fill the gap left by a lack of a "must have" toy, as toy makers stick to past hits and avoid taking risks, what Needham & Co. analyst Sean McGowan calls going "back to the toy box."

"Partly, its because they know 'this thing works,' " he says.

On the other hand it is toys that parents played with as children and they know that they will have appeal once presented to the child in the right manner.

Wooden building blocks, and their plastic counterparts such as Lego, have a timeless appeal and so have Meccano metal construction sets. Mind you, Meccano has grown up a lot since I was a child and now it has construction sets from age 2+ upwards.

Hasbro Inc. has found success this season by revitalizing names such as the 40-year-old Nerf brand and Transformers, which first hit the U.S. in the early '80s and are selling well again after last year's "Transformers" movie.

The company also debuted revamped versions of classic board games like Clue, Operation and Monopoly this year.

"One of our core tenets is to reinvent and reimagine a lot of our core brands," says John Frascotti, Hasbro's global chief of marketing, who is 47. "There's an emotional resonance that comes from the quality of the experience people in my or our generation had with the toys, and recognition that the same experience can now shared with entire family and children."

Hasbro plans to continue to update old brands and has a G.I. Joe revival - including toys related to a new live-action movie - set for 2009.

Jakks Pacific Inc. has brought back several classic brands this year, including a 25th anniversary Cabbage Patch Kid doll that is the replica of the original version and a new Smurfs plush toy and DVD.

© M Smith (Veshengro), December 2008