Shooting from obscurity to million-selling must-have in the space of just a few short weeks, the meteoric rise of an in-demand toy is an impressive sight. All too often, though, it's followed by an equally meteoric plummet into obscurity -- and another toy fad is born.
From Cabbage Patch Kids to Beanie Babies to Pokemon, history is littered with once-desirable playthings that quickly turned into pop-culture relics. How many of them do you have lurking under your bed?
Cabbage Patch KidsAlthough Cabbage Patch Kids were invented in the late 70s, it wasn't until 1983 that these chubby, simpering dolls hit the big time -- and boy, did they ever. A Time magazine article from the period describes a wave of Black Friday-style riots as over-eager shoppers mobbed stores in search of the toys. They sold millions, set records, and even inspired their own high-profile spoof in the grotesque, infamous "Garbage Pail Kids" trading cards.
Surely all the fuss has died down by now, three decades later? Mostly, but there are still a few holdouts. Holdouts like collectors Pat and Joe Prosey of Maryland, who not only own 5,000 of the dough-faced dolls, but built a 6,000-square-foot climate-controlled abode to house them.
Zhu Zhu PetsPip Squeak. Num Nums. Mr. Squiggles. If that means nothing to you, we're betting you weren't in the company of a four-to-six-year-old at any point over the last few holiday seasons. They're the names of the original Zhu Zhu Pets, fist-sized mechanical hamsters that use sensors to explore their environment and play with a huge variety of accessories and toys (sold separately, of course). No matter how much you lavished them with gifts, however, all they ever wanted to do for us is zoom off under the couch, never to be seen again.
Even so, the Zhu Zhus were top sellers in 2009 -- so much so that their St. Louis-based maker, Cepia, couldn't churn them out quickly enough, and as supply dried up, prices skyrocketed as high as six times their regular retail price. Ranges based on rock stars, ninjas and princesses followed, but never quite recaptured the success of the originals. Maybe that's what they keep trying to find under the couch.
Beanie BabiesSimple, monochromatic, and undeniably appealing, the low-tech Beanie Baby first graced store shelves in 1993. Creator Ty realized it was onto something good shortly afterwards. Their tactics -- keeping the range away from chain stores and periodically retiring lines in order to stimulate demand -- made them a huge hit with collectors, many of whom bought hundreds or thousands of the things, convinced their value would continue to rise indefinitely.
Unfortunately for them, the Beanie bubble was an overblown mess of hype, speculation, and canny marketing; it burst around the turn of the century, conveniently giving us all a quick preview of what would be happening to our home equity just a few short years later.
FurbyMoving, dancing, chattering, and singing, the Furby was one of the first consumer-friendly attempts to produce a toy robot high-tech enough to respond to attempts to play with it. As Furbies 'aged', their language skills would progress from speaking in a semi-intelligible language called "Furbish" to eventually mastering a number of basic English phrases. A bit like raising a teenager in reverse, then.
Some called them demonic, and to be honest, what with the bristling eyebrows, sinister side-to-side shuffle, and that cruel-looking beak, you can kinda see their point. Still, that didn't stop them selling hellishly well: over 40 million Furbies found their way into the hands of unsuspecting kids before the craze died out.
Silly BandzIt's easy to understand how fads like Beanie Babies or Cabbage Patch Kids got to be popular. But Silly Bandz? They're just plastic bracelets, sold by the dozen, shaped like animals, musical instruments, cartoon characters and more. And the kids went wild for them.
Why? Your guess is as good as ours, but we'd hazard that the combination of affordability, collectabilty, and disposability had something to do with it. They'd go on to spawn a whole string of imitators and branded accessories (yes, there was even a Silly Bandz video game). Perhaps one day they'll be popular enough for them to make a Silly Bandz range in the shape of Silly Bandz.
TamagotchiOffering almost as much work as looking after a real pet but with none of the accompanying companionship and hugs, these pocket-sized virtual pets weren't much of a deal. That didn't stop them becoming all the rage back in the late 90s, when they first arrived on Western shores from their native Japan.
Beginning as an egg, the tamagotchi hatches, passes through several juvenile stages as its owner feeds and cares for it, and ultimately develops — some days or weeks later — into an adult form that reflects the love lavished upon it over its youth.
That was the idea, anyway. Inevitably some poor child forgot to care for it for a few hours, whereupon the ungrateful critter upped and died. Floods of tears inevitably ensued.
Though we're now all far too hip to heft around chunky, passe electronic trinkets like tamagotchi, the gameplay concepts -- nurturing, gradual growth, regular check-ins -- live on in cellphone games aplenty, not to mention the vast number of Farmville-style Facebook apps.
Intermittently popular at various points over the last half-century, these dolls were originally created, in heart-warming fashion, by a down-on-his-luck Swedish woodcutter who needed a cheap Christmas gift for his daughter.
And although trolls aren't exactly the flavor of the month at present, don't think you've seen the last of them. Movie studio Dreamworks is hard at work on a new animated feature film starring the toys…coming soon to under a bridge near you.
- Cabbage Patch Kids
- Zhu Zhu Pets
- Beanie Babies