POGs, Proton Packs, and Potatoes?

POGs, Proton Packs, and Potatoes?

6 Dec 2019

Through the 1960s and 70s, Christmas was all dolls and board games. In 1979 Star Wars came and the movie-merch-machine caught fire … then Lego made its name and the world went Rubix Cube daft.

The 1990s unleashed computer power and tech would dominate the naughties. From GameBoy to SNES and Mega Drive, Xbox set records in 2005 as did Wii in 2006. The pixels continued to pop for Christmas 2007 with …

Iggle Piggle, the Night Garden’s finest.

See, some Christmas best-sellers look inexplicable in hindsight. Maradona stickers (1986), Teletubbies (1997) and Bob the Builder (2000), Christmas best-sellers are a perfect time-capsule of where we were and what once was hot ... 

So Tickle Me Elmo, let's run down a list of 10 standout Christmas gifts from over 60 years of silly season. Starting with the small potatoes.

1960 – Mr Potato Head

Believe it or not, the starchy sarcasm didn't begin with Toy Story in 1995. No sir. Mr Potato Head was actually the first kids toy ever advertised on TV.

Ramming plastic accessories into a real potato (sold separately) mightn't sound like a hoot, but Mr Potato Head made air and kids simply had to have one. Somehow, it went on to shift over a million units.

1970 – Nerf Ball

'The World's First Indoor Ball' was a powerful marketing message for Christmas 1970. Kids could finally play sports indoors without upsetting gran - or the good china.

Think Nerf and you probably think modern orange guns and blue foam bullets. Nope, Nerf's like Brad Pitt: much older than it looks.

1974 – Dungeons and Dragons

Before the movie merch thing, Christmas toys were mostly dolls and games, few of which have enjoyed the staying power of Dungeons and Dragons, 1974's Christmas best-seller.

To this day, there’s an estimated 14m active D&D players worldwide and the game’s popularity continues to grow. Modern RPG fans may think the genre began in Azeroth, but big thanks are due to Krusk, Gimble and Jozan.

1985 – Teddy Ruxpin

You have to look pretty hard to find mass-market tech on Christmas lists before 1985. Remember, this was an era where TVs were tiny and mobile phones the size of petrol stations.

But Teddy Ruxpin – a bear who 'read' stories out loud (a cassette tape in its belly) – was pretty groundbreaking. Parents were giddy they could now hand over bedtime duties to an inanimate object and settle in for 1985's newest TV sensation, Eastenders.

1988 – Ghostbusters Proton Pack

Movies merch was pretty old hat by 1988 but the Proton Pack deserves a special mention.

Ghostbusters flop 2016 reboot didn't do the franchise any favours, but it's hard to understate how massive the 1984 original was; grossing $300m from a $30m budget. The reason the team didn't cash in until 1988 is because they simply weren't prepared for the film's mammoth success.

Written by the real life Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) and Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), Ghostbusters spawned cartoon spin-offs, board games, video games, lunchboxes, Lego …

Today, believe it or not, 'Busters merchandise is counted in $billions.

1995 – POGs

Cardboard discs. Colourful cardboard discs.

The year is 1995. The Super Nintendo is a thing. The Mega Drive is a thing. Home videos are a thing. CDs are a thing. The year's biggest grossing films are Toy Story, Batman, Jumanji, Casper, Pocahontas and Apollo 13.

What was the Christmas best-seller? Not a computer game, not a video, not movie merch, not a must-have album. No - colourful cardboard discs. For those who have never heard of POGs, they were (and maybe still are) colourful cardboard discs. 

1996 – Buzz Lightyear

Those of us in a certain age category will remember the hype around the release of the Buzz Lightyear action figure, hot on the heels of 1995’s Toy Story. This was the must-have toy for Christmas '96.

Long before Black Friday was dreamt up by evil retail bosses, shoppers were stampeding to infinity and beyond to get their hands on Buzz. Well, he did have an impressive wingspan*.

*Not a flying toy.

1999 – Who Wants to be a Millionaire

It's hard to believe the buzz surrounding the Chris Tarrant-hosted gameshow that promised to make millionaires, and spawned a heap of cliches. If you want to know what those were, best ask the audience or phone a friend.

In 2019 it's tough to see a gameshow on council telly commanding even a fraction of the 19.2m viewers WWTBAM pulled in in its early days. ITV execs today would yank out their own teeth for a rating like that.

2015 – The Star Wars Lightsaber

The release of 1977's eponymous Star Wars movie marked the start of the galactically successful relationship between movies and merch. And just as merch from Episode 4 (the first of the three six nine twelve Star Wars films), was a 1977 must-have, we saw a repeat in 2015 when The Force Awakens broke a ten year film hiatus.

If you really want to know why Disney paid over $4bn to acquire the Star Wars franchise, it's because of staying power like that. Then there’s the merch. And the theme parks. And the video games. And the spin-offs. And the licensing. And the movies. And the merch. And the merch. And the merch. That's why. 

2019 – Who knows

What once was old is new again. Why? Because the shortlist for 2019's top Christmas toys looks a little familiar. In the running are a Buzz Lightyear doll, some Lego shenanigans, Monopoly and a Nerf gun. Really. 

Are we really evolving, or is there an r in there somewhere? Answers on a Christmas card. 



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