A Nostalgia-Driven Look at Retro Branding (on Toys We Loved as Kids)

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September 26, 2018
Thoughts by
Samantha Harr

Retro branding in nostalgic toys

After careful consideration everyone at Trig picked their number one favorite toy at age 10 and we set out to observe how they were presented in the eras in which we loved them. Despite having near endless toy options in the latter half of the 20th century certain items stuck with us more than any others. Part of that is due to who we were in our hearts as young people, and part of the connections we forged between ourselves and our favorite toys has to do with how they were presented to us at a very specific time in our lives.

Construx: The Action Building System
Littlest Pet Shop
Pikachu Plush
Diamond Back BMX Bike
  • Construx (Ty Hagler)
    Originally released in 1983, Construx were unique among competing construct style toys in that rather than using stackable bricks, they were comprised of rigid plastic beams, connector cubes, panels, hinges, and compatible accessory parts. The beam system allowed for building big and building fast, thwarting the tedium of one-block-at-a-time assembly. The packaging featured bold, high contrast images and blocky text that perfectly told the story of what genre of fun to expect once the box was opened.
  • Littlest Pet Shop (Samantha Harr)
    Having little plastic environments to mix and match with the animals provided a ton of fuel for imagination. The packaging was a common style for toys aimed at young girls in the 90s. Bright colors, soft lines, smiling animals playing happily together right on the box. The logo was styled like a quaint business sign, so right away a kid would feel more like they were “adopting” animals rather than simply buying a toy. User experience was clearly a big consideration when Kenner Toys launched the charmingly wholesome Littlest Pet Shop line.
  • Goosebumps Books (Kelly Harrigan)
    While admittedly not technically a toy, Kelly was a little more bookish at age 10 and loved the Goosebumps series. We couldn’t pass up an opportunity to talk about the covers. Goosebumps had an iconically strong brand image with the iconic oozing title, the vibrant saturated color palette that is key to any 90s childhood experience, and cover art that was always equal parts creepy and cool. In the original series every cover had the iconic logo and border so they were easily recognizable on the store shelf, and seeing them collected together made any kid want check out one thriller after the next.
  • Pikachu Plush (Connie Tran)
    Beginning in 1998 here in the USA, the Pokemon franchise took the youth market by storm after having already seen explosive success in its home country of Japan in the 2.5 years prior. Connie reminisced about how elated they were to receive an oversized Pikachu stuffed toy that never left her side. “I remember wishing that he were real so I could take care of him.” A key element to the game and show plot is bonding with your chosen individual Pokemon who are your friends and battle partners. Going through hardships and joy together keeps emotions running high. Having a life-sized plush brings the story right into your arms.
  • Diamond Back BMX Bike (Andrew DiMeo)
    Though the sport of BMX was first created in the 70s, it really hit its heyday in the early 1980s. Kids everywhere had to have a BMX bike of their own, and even went so far as to customize them. Just look at the 80s-ness of this advertisement. The blocky text, the lens flare, the metallic aesthetic emphasis. This ad also captures a bit of the distinctly 80s sci-fi vibe we all know and love. (Remember that this was around the same time that Bladerunner and Tron were released.)
  • Caboodle (Ashley Whitley)
    Every girl had to have a Caboodle in the 90s. The feminine colors were fun and just a little bit wild. Older girls kept their cosmetics and hair supplies in them while those of us too young for that stuff yet used our Caboodles to organize and secure small toy collections. It was such an easy way to keep little plastic pieces from scattering all over your room, but knowing that the product was intended for a slightly-older-than-you female audience made young girls feel more mature than their peers.
  • Yo-Yos (Patrick Murphy)
    Almost all kids own a yo-yo at some point, as they are considered a timeless classic toy. Yo-yos had seen a huge boom in popularity in the 1960s, and came back yet again in the 90s. The Duncan Neo was an extremely stylistically saturated yo-yo. The bright neon colors were a holdover trend from the 80s that persisted into the early 90s. I mean just look at that Memphis style art on the packaging. Often imitated, the Memphis Group aesthetic was created in the 80s but hit popularity peak in the 90s and this is a prime example of its signature look made of asymmetrical shapes and pop art inspired colors.
  • Legos (Ethan Creasman)
    You can’t make any kind of favorite toy list without including Legos. They’re considered a classic for good reason. Unlimited versatility keeps generation after generation coming back to check out what new Lego sets are being released. Marketing-wise, 90s Lego box art has really limited information beyond the logo and what you can expect to find inside the packaging. Their print advertisements double down on the minimalism with simple imagery and simple messages. This plays into the idea that the company should only give you a few ideas about what to create, encouraging you to rely on your own imagination.
1992 Lego Catalog Page Image Source: http://lego.wikia.com/
1992 Lego Catalog Page
Image Source:


Samantha Harr

Known as Samma in her friend groups, Samantha Harr was stolen away from the fashion design world by her love of community building, which led to an interest in marketing. Having studied brand creation and advertising practices at SCAD, she had the tools to start pursuing her newfound passion for campaign development. After enjoying many successful years of business leadership in the gaming world, Samantha has joined Trig as a full time Brand Asset Management team member and creates content both internally and for our partners who are keen on taking their outreach to new levels.


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