Saturday, July 16, 2011

Toy Companies Turn to Nostalgia to Celebrate Anniversaries

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REMEMBER the fun you had with your favorite toys and games while growing up?
Colorforms, created by a husband and wife in their New York apartment in 1951, turns 60 this year, and University Games is using the occasion to remind parents of a popular childhood toy and to entice them to buy one for their children. And Mattel is commemorating the 40th anniversary of Uno with a yearlong marketing campaign to promote the family card game.
Toymakers are hoping you do, and they are hoping that you are sharing the experience with your children. Toy companies have long used nostalgia to lure adults back to their childhood favorites while updating those same toys to attract a new generation of children.
“Toys are always tied with nostalgia,” said Adrienne Appell, a spokeswoman for the Toy Industry Association, an industry trade group. “A lot of those purchasing decisions are being made by a parent or a grandparent. They gravitate toward toys they enjoyed as children.”
University Games plans to celebrate the Colorforms anniversary with new products, a contest for children and the re-release of two favorites: its original geometric set and a Michael Jackson dress-up set. To get the word out, Colorforms will have a big marketing push this year, including print ads and, for the first time, television commercials, said Bob Moog, president of University Games, which bought the brand in 1998.
He declined to say how much University Games would spend on marketing.
“We’re trying to say to the American public, Colorforms is still here,” Mr. Moog said. “Everything you loved about it as a child will be appealing to your children.”
Mr. Moog said Colorforms was one of the few branded toys that had endured for generations. “There is something about this brand that has really stuck, no pun intended,” he said.
Colorforms were created by Harry and Patricia Kislevitz, who were looking for material for an art project. Because her husband liked abstract art, they used pieces of vinyl cut into geometric shapes, Mrs. Kislevitz said.
“I put some in the bathroom; people would go into the bathroom and never come back out again,” she said. “Harry, he thought we might have something here.”
The first commercial order, for 1,000 sets, came from F. A. O. Schwarz, and other retailers soon followed. The couple expanded with other products, including paper dolls, paints and crayons, and in the 1950s began licensing popular characters like Popeye, Mickey Mouse and Barbie for the Colorforms sets.
Licensing turned out to be a smart move for Colorforms, as it became a mirror of children’s pop culture. Current licenses include Green Lantern, Transformers, Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants.
Colorforms has more than 75 products for children, and this year will bring two new ones, an electronic paint brush called Brush With Genius and Magic Fashion Show, a dress-up set with runway models and a catwalk.
To encourage children to be creative with Colorforms, University Games is sponsoring an art contest. Prizes, to be awarded Nov. 13, include art camp scholarships and a $500 Treasury bond.
But to be successful, the 60th anniversary campaign for Colorforms will have to appeal to parents as well as children, Mr. Moog said.
“Parents have been looking for activities that are self-directed and fun,” he said. “Many parents would like to have an alternative where a child can play and not be in front of a computer or a TV screen.”
Mattel is also using nostalgia to market the 40th anniversary of Uno, which was created by a barber shop owner in Ohio in 1971. Playing off the number one, Mattel started the campaign on the first of the year, or 1-1-11, with a float in the Rose Bowl parade.
“We are putting Uno in unexpected places. We want to be there first,” said Lee Ann Wong, vice president for marketing at Mattel’s games division. That meant going beyond the dining room table and updating the card game for mobile phones, social networks and video game consoles.
“What we’ve been able to do is evolve as the players evolve,” she said. “With the advances of technology, we have evolved into a multiplatform game; we are everywhere.”
Mattel’s retail campaign promoted products like Uno Moo for preschool children, Uno Attack for older children and Uno Roboto, which players can personalize with their names and house rules. The line also introduced decks, including a nostalgia version and another that’s waterproof, and apps for the iPod and iPhone.
Ms. Wong said the plan was to widen the target audience for Uno to include young children, college students and adults with children of their own. The campaign, called Uno for Uno, includes a “robust marketing plan,” she said, with TV and print ads and a heavy focus on social media.
“We saw immediate point-of-sale lift from that,” Ms. Wong said. “It had a nice double-digit increase.”
Mattel declined to say how much it was spending on its Uno campaign, but according to the Kantar Media unit of WPP, the company spent a total of $184 million to advertise products from all of its toy lines last year.
The next phase of the marketing campaign for Uno includes a live tournament on Facebook in August. Uno has gained one million fans on Facebook in the last six months, Ms. Wong said, and Mattel wants to take advantage of that.
The tournament, a first for Mattel, begins Aug. 15 and lasts 40 days. It is free and open to players worldwide, and prizes, including a cruise, $10,000 in cash and iPads will be awarded.
“Uno is not just a simple card game,” Ms. Wong said. “That is our heritage, but we are evolving.”

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