E Is For Etch A Sketch, Elmo & Electronics – A-Z Of The Toy Business
Etch A Sketch
This must be one of the most iconic creative play toys out there. First brought to market in 1960, Etch A Sketch allows children to ‘draw’ impressive pictures with a fun and visually intriguing reset mechanism and with some structural aid to draw good linear shapes. Invented by André Cassagnes, a Baker’s son from near Paris, France, who went on to also become a well-known inventor of Kites. In the first year on the market Etch A Sketch is reported to have sold more than 600,000 copies., and in total since 1960 the product has sold more than 175 million copies – an incredible number. The product is still on the market today, with Spin Master having bought the brand in 2016, it looks like this iconic toy is going to be a classic toy forever more.
Elmo (Tickle Me)
Tickle Me Elmo is the very definition of a massive hit product. In the region of 1 million toys were sold in the launch year (1996), and by the following Christmas over 5million had been sold. Elmo of course was a character in Sesame Street, which was as big as a kids’ entertainment program could get back then. Elmo’s feature was to shake, vibrate and to recite his catchphrase. For children, the appeal was massive, because Elmo is the epitome of a cute character, in a cuddly and interactive format that really brought Elmo to life. There have been numerous attempts to bring Elmo back, but with lesser success, but regardless of that, for those people who were in the toy business around that time, Elmo remains the ultimate dream – a massive sell out success product which was 5 times bigger in year two than in the already impressive first year of sales.
Ever since consumer electronics came on the scene, the toy industry has done a magnificent job of taking technology and dumbing it/pricing it down to fit toy price points and to deliver compelling play experiences. Way back, the Speak & Spell from Texas Instruments was an electronic educational product which would ask children to spell words & other simple tasks – this product was entirely reliant on electronics. Clearly electronic products are more expensive to develop, because in addition to the usual tooling & other development costs, you also have to develop the electronic components which all adds $$$ to product development. Therefore, launching electronic products in a market where most products miss the mark and fail to come back for a second year can be very risky. When it works though, the results can be extraordinary, Furby is a great example of a product bristling with electronics and other technologies, which sold more than 40 million units in the first three years of launch. Some years later, new versions of Furby featuring updated electronics and full of technology patents was highly successful again. So, Electronics can help toy companies to deliver fantastic products, albeit with some risks attached.
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