In an age of sophisticated computer games and cunningly marketed TV
and movie product tie-ins, kids are going crazy for a simple plaything
that spins up and down on a piece of string. Yo-yos, according to the
British Association of Toy Retailers, are currently selling in shops
across the country at the astonishing rate of 150,000 per week.
The yo-yo’s previous period in vogue - in the mid 1980s - was not nearly
as dramatic as its explosive return to prominence this year. Why has it
suddenly become the top toy for pre-teens?
’In 1997, despite having two models in stock, we did not sell a single
yo-yo,’ says Barry Eldridge, marketing manager at The Entertainer Group,
the UK’s largest independent toy retail chain. ’In the first quarter of
1998, suddenly we were selling 3000-4000 a week. It went quieter during
the summer holidays but now we’re selling 15,000-18,000 a week,
accounting for about 15% of our business.’
A number of factors have combined to bring about the yo-yo’s return from
First, in 1998 there has been no obvious must-have toy as there has been
in years gone by. Second, there has been a high degree of parental
approval, born out of a mixture of personal nostalgia and a feeling that
yo-yos are better for children than being immersed in virtual reality
graphics for hours.
But these factors do not explain why kids now see them as cool. The more
specific reasons for the resurrection are threefold: yo-yos have gained
street credibility; product development has seen the introduction of
yo-yos with ’centrifugal clutch systems’ that make it easier to master
basic tricks; and rewards are being used to motivate kids to hone their
Yo-yos have achieved street credibility for more than the obvious reason
that they can be used in the street. Some are sold in packaging bearing
lightning and graffiti designs and one product - the Stinger, from
Australian company Peter Fish - even features a dead scorpion encased in
the yo-yo itself.
Neil Leah, sales director of toy distributor Kidz Biz, says that
’playground peer pressure’ has triggered the explosion in demand.
Increasingly, children are treating yo-yos as fashion accessories as
well as toys, collecting different models and even wearing them on belt
BATR secretary Gerry Masters says: ’It’s a bit like toy car collecting.
Kids want different models.’
Brands such as the Yomega X-Brain and Pro Yo III have become firm
favourites as children have become more discerning about yo-yos. ’Brands
are important as a sign of quality because there is some poor stuff out
there,’ says Hamley’s buying director David Fogel. Hamley’s is currently
selling 16,000 yo-yos a week.
Yomega, actually a US brand distributed by Japanese company Bandai (the
current yo-yo boom began in Australia, swept Japan but has yet to really
catch hold in the US) has been the most aggressive marketer, using
advertising, PR and sales promotion to position itself at the premium
end of the market, with product costing up to pounds 100. Overall,
prices range from pounds 8-pounds 15 for popular yo-yos, with the
cheaper at pounds 1.
Yomega’s sales promotion agency, Yo! International, runs a reward
programme for learning yo-yo skills called Tricknology. Children who buy
yo-yos from accredited shops are taught tricks on which they are then
tested to win bronze, silver, gold and platinum status.
’The main reason why yo-yos have had a resurgence is that they have been
reinvented,’ says Darrel Jones, Bandai product manager for the Yomega
range. ’Things like the clutch mechanism have made it easier for
Old toy, new tricks
In Japan, Bandai kick-started the yo-yo craze by introducing a low-price
product and staging demonstrations in shopping malls and schools. The UK
picked up on the trend and Bandai fanned interest through its PR
company, The Wright Partnership, with activities such as personal
appearances by ’Jenny B’, the 18-year-old world yo-yo champion.
The rebirth of the yo-yo proves that old products can be revived as long
as they have some inherent quality. Here is a good old idea given a new
spin by balancing street credibility and innovation with a comforting
familiarity for parents. Yo-yo means ’come back’ in the Tagalog dialect
of the Philippines - and so it has.