AGENDA: How the yo-yo bounced back - After years of obscurity, the humble yo-yo has become the top toy this autumn. But how do these playground crazes start, and what can marketers learn from them? Robert Gray looks at the yo-yo revolution

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.

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

obscurity.



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-yo skills.



Fashion accessories



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

clips.



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

beginners.’



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.



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