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The Nostalgic Toy Trend: Why Are Classics Coming Back?

 Play stimulates children’s creativity, learning, and development, which is why toys and games are undoubtedly an essential part of every childhood. Even with the rise of video games and touchscreen devices, Yahoo Finance notes that global toy market growth remains positive. In 2021, it was valued at $103.96 billion, with an annual growth rate of about 8.5%. While the market outlook is focused on the development of modern and innovative toys through the use of technology like 3D printing, what the report overlooks is how classic toys made a huge comeback during the pandemic. From traces of nostalgia to a desire to unplug from our devices, there are various factors that come into play when we closely look at this trend.

Various options for redesign

One of the most obvious reasons that toys and games from the past decades have reemerged is the opportunity to redesign, reimagine, and recreate them. For example, the classic board game Ludo has many variants not only in terms of geographic localizations but also in the design layout and game components. There are always fun and new ways to play with the main board, roll the dice, and set the number of players. Similarly, classic building blocks Lego have also constantly evolved throughout the years. Its standard brick was introduced in 1958 but has since unlocked millions of possibilities with its various interlocking pieces and creatively designed figures and sets.

Pop culture tie-ins and references

As parents draw inspiration from their own childhood in buying toys for their children, they’re likely to choose toys that they can associate with the popular culture from the particular decade they grew up in. Mark Bellomo’s book Totally Tubular 80s Toys explains how the popularity of dolls like Barbie and the Rockers and figure sets like Muppet Babies went hand-in-hand with their respective animated television series. The rest of the chapters are replete with examples of toys coinciding with the famous franchises of the 1980s, like the action figures DC Super Powers and configurable robots Transformers.

These toys that reference or tie in with pop culture are further pushed to the limelight by the numerous Hollywood and Netflix reboots throughout the years—appealing to both nostalgic parents and their kids looking for new entertainment and interests.

Niche adult market

There are also instances where these tie-ins end up carving out a niche adult market through collectibles and rarities. This means that even childless millennials become the target market, as their enduring interest in shows and movies from their childhood adds more value to these classic toys.

Building sets like Lego and Gundam remain hot in the market, especially when the kits and figures have been customized for a specific show or movie. While the video game series Pokémon still sells themed plushies, cards, and miscellaneous merchandise, rare and out-of-production cards command high resell prices in collector markets. Meanwhile, doll manufacturer Mattel releases vintage reproductions of their Barbie dolls to appeal to their wide audience of collectors and enthusiasts.

Avenues for comfort and escapism

The major resurgence of classic toys also points to a desire for comfort and escapism, especially during the pandemic. Polly Pocket collectors rediscovered their interest in these creative and diverse play sets after spending most of their time in lockdown. Despite not having access to the outdoors, the pocket-sized and self-contained worlds of Polly Pocket gave them a glimpse of a world untouched by an ongoing crisis, while also allowing them to tap into their happy memories from childhood. It’s also no coincidence that in response to the concept of ‘healing your inner child’ going mainstream in the past two years, buying classic toys for oneself was a way to revisit the past and fulfill previously unmet needs in one’s childhood.

Written by: Tina Grey

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