Etch A Sketch draws on some updated looks

  • Thursday, November 22, 2001 9:00pm
  • Business

Associated Press

BRYAN, Ohio – The maker of one of America’s classic baby boomer toys isn’t afraid of shaking up its look to keep it on store shelves and parents’ shopping lists.

Etch A Sketch still comes in its familiar red rectangle plastic box, but now there are pink, blue and lime-green versions. And a new shape hit the market this fall – a red, heart-shaped Etch A Sketch being sold by Avon Products Inc., the cosmetics company.

Ohio Art Co. began adding colors to the frames about 10 years ago. Since then, there has been a new color, shape or gimmick nearly each year. The current line of “jelly colors” will be updated next year.

Varying Etch A Sketch’s look while trying to retain its simplistic appeal has been a successful move for Ohio Art; the new versions and a growing demand for traditional toys have helped increase sales and return the company to profitability. Free advertising from its appearances in movies and during the recent MTV Video Music Awards have been another boon for the toy.

But while Etch A Sketch is one of the simplest of playthings, it hasn’t always been easy for Ohio Art to keep it looking fresh.

“A lot of times we come up with what we think are improvements, but they’re really not fun,” said company president Larry Killgallon said.

Still, the new products have helped Ohio Art turn around after struggling financially for two years and posting losses of $1.4 million a year ago. This year it has made money for two straight quarters.

A decision to move production to China a year ago and other cost-cutting moves have contributed to the turnaround, Killgallon said.

Inside the company’s modest headquarters in rural northwest Ohio, all types of Etch A Sketches are displayed on desks and in the hallways. More than 100 million of the toys have been sold worldwide since it was invented in 1960.

“In the toy industry, if you get a product that lasts three years you’ve got a good item,” Killgallon said. “There’s not a lot of toys that last this long.”

While the splashy new colors combined to boost sales by 30 percent in past years, the classic red Etch A Sketch still sells best. Research has shown that it’s mothers who played with the original red models who buy Etch A Sketch, Killgallon said.

Some of the attraction is emotional, but Etch A Sketch also has an appeal as an activity toy.

“That creativity part is still something they like,” Killgallon said of consumers. “Mothers find it educational.”

Lauretta Jeffries, shopping recently for Christmas presents in Toledo, Ohio, said she’d rather see her 10-year-old son with an Etch A Sketch in his hands than a video game controller.

“They can do so much with it. I think they learn more,” she said. “I like it because it doesn’t take batteries.”

Other strong selling points with parents is that Etch A Sketches are portable, quiet and inexpensive, ranging from $5.99 to $12.99.

Still, Killgallon concedes that the toy that lets youngsters scrawl artwork or messages, then erase with a quick shake, can’t compare with video games. And that means his company has to keep trying.

“It’s just not that exciting,” he said. “But it has a wonderful place. It’s just not going to be No. 1 on kids’ wish list for this Christmas.”

Selling toys usually is “all about the latest and greatest, and it’s all about creating a huge buzz,” said Dave Gerardi, senior editor at Playthings, a New York-based magazine that covers the toy industry.

Right now, he said, there is a trend growing for nostalgic and traditional toys that should help Etch A Sketch sales.

Ohio Art has been smart to make subtle adjustments to Etch A Sketch and resist anything too radical, Gerardi said, adding, “You can make changes but you’ve got to keep it recognizable.”

That recognizability helped Etch A Sketch get millions of dollars worth of free advertising in movies and televisions.

It’s not unusual for script writers to ask to include the toy in a background shot. A car commercial now running that shows a boy doodling with an Etch A Sketch would be worth an estimated $5 million in free advertising.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Business

Reed Macdonald, magniX CEO. Photo: magniX
Everett-based magniX appoints longtime aerospace exec as new CEO

Reed Macdonald will take the helm at a pivotal time for the company that builds electric motors for airplanes.

People walk along a newly constructed bridge at the Big Four Ice Caves hike along the Mountain Loop Highway in Snohomish County, Washington on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Check out the best tourist attractions in Snohomish County

Here’s a taste of what to do and see in Snohomish County, from shopping to sky diving.

People walk out of the Columbia Clearance Store at Seattle Premium Outlets on Thursday, April 25, 2024 in Quil Ceda Village, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Head to Tulalip for retail recreation at Seattle Premium Outlets

The outlet mall has over 130 shops. You might even bring home a furry friend.

Brandon Baker, deputy director for the Port of Edmonds, shows off the port's new logo. Credit: Port of Edmonds
A new logo sets sail for the Port of Edmonds

Port officials say after 30 years it was time for a new look

Penny Clark, owner of Travel Time of Everett Inc., at her home office on Tuesday, April 23, 2024 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
In a changing industry, travel agents ‘so busy’ navigating modern travel

While online travel tools are everywhere, travel advisers still prove useful — and popular, says Penny Clark, of Travel Time in Arlington.

Travis Furlanic shows the fluorescent properties of sulfur tuft mushrooms during a Whidbey Wild Mushroom Tour at Tilth Farmers Market on Saturday, April 27, 2024 in Langley, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
On Whidbey Island, local fungi forager offers educational mushroom tours

Every spring and fall, Travis Furlanic guides groups through county parks. His priority, he said, is education.

ZeroAvia founder and CEO Val Mifthakof, left, shows Gov. Jay Inslee a hydrogen-powered motor during an event at ZeroAvia’s new Everett facility on Wednesday, April 24, 2024, near Paine Field in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
ZeroAvia’s new Everett center ‘a huge step in decarbonizing’ aviation

The British-American company, which is developing hydrogen-electric powered aircraft, expects one day to employ hundreds at the site.

Allan and Frances Peterson, a woodworker and artist respectively, stand in the door of the old horse stable they turned into Milkwood on Sunday, March 31, 2024, in Index, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Old horse stall in Index is mini art gallery in the boonies

Frances and Allan Peterson showcase their art. And where else you can buy a souvenir Index pillow or dish towel?

Everett
Red Robin to pay $600K for harassment at Everett location

A consent decree approved Friday settles sexual harassment and retaliation claims by four victims against the restaurant chain.

magniX employees and staff have moved into the company's new 40,000 square foot office on Seaway Boulevard on Monday, Jan. 18, 2020 in Everett, Washington. magniX consolidated all of its Australia and Redmond operations under one roof to be home to the global headquarters, engineering, manufacturing and testing of its electric propulsion systems.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Harbour Air plans to buy 50 electric motors from Everett company magniX

One of the largest seaplane airlines in the world plans to retrofit its fleet with the Everett-built electric propulsion system.

Simreet Dhaliwal speaks after winning during the 2024 Snohomish County Emerging Leaders Awards Presentation on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Simreet Dhaliwal wins The Herald’s 2024 Emerging Leaders Award

Dhaliwal, an economic development and tourism specialist, was one of 12 finalists for the award celebrating young leaders in Snohomish County.

Lynnwood
New Jersey company acquires Lynnwood Land Rover dealership

Land Rover Seattle, now Land Rover Lynnwood, has been purchased by Holman, a 100-year-old company.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.