Friday, March 23, 2012

Political gaffe revives US love affair with Etch A Sketch

WASHINGTON: It's the size of an iPad, but uses no batteries, and it's only got one app -- and thanks to a gaffe by a Mitt Romney aide, the venerable Etch A Sketch is suddenly the hottest toy around.


Sales of the red-framed, dual-dial doodling device rocketed Thursday after a key adviser to the front-running Republican presidential hopeful reinvented it as an unlikely political metaphor.


"It's certainly unexpected. It comes from an area that we don't consider our marketing bailiwick," said Martin Killgallon, vice president for marketing and product development at the Ohio Art Company, the makers of Etch A Sketch.


On Amazon.com orders for the classic Etch A Sketch model exploded 3,000 per cent with a single day, putting it atop the online retailer's "movers and shakers" list of top-trending toys and games.


At Toys "R" Us, "sales of Etch A Sketch are definitely shaking up," spokesman Bob Friedland said, citing real-time monitoring of purchases at the big box chain's 873 stores nationwide.


"March isn't normally a huge sales month for us," Killgallon told AFP by telephone on his way back from a toy industry convention in Chicago.


"If people can keep talking about Etch A Sketch closer to election day (in November), it has a better chance of driving business" at Christmas time.


The plastic Etch A Sketch first went on the market in 1960, a year after Ohio Art bought the design from the Frenchman who invented it, Andre Cassagnes, at a toy fair in Germany.


It fast became a hit among baby boomers, and remained in production as parents introduced their youngsters to its magic. Killgallon said "well over 150 million" have been sold.


Resembling an old-fashion television set with its white knobs, it uses a system of internal pulleys to move a stylus that scratches an image on a thin layer of aluminum dust.


Flip the Etch A Sketch upside down, give it a shake, and presto! The screen is ready for a new drawing.


That was the analogy Romney strategist Eric Fehrnstrom tried to make on CNN when he suggested the former Massachusetts governor would "reset" his increasingly right-wing views so as to woo independents nearer to voting day.


"It's almost like an Etch A Sketch," he said. "You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again."


In no time, rival candidates Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich started brandishing Etch A Sketches at campaign rallies to drive home their argument that Romney is an inconsistent flip-flopper.


In Washington, women's health advocates turned up at a Romney fundraising breakfast Thursday with Etch A Sketches in hand to protest his opposition to Planned Parenthood, the nation's leading abortion provider.


On Wall Street, meanwhile, shares in Ohio Art tripled in value on a single day, prompting Fehrnstrom to quip on Twitter than he might name-check another American toy legend, Mr Potato Head, on the campaign trail.


"Etch A Sketch is one of those evergreen toys," said Erik Quam, of Fat Brain Toys of Elkhorn, Nebraska, where it is consistently "one of our best-selling products" out of the 6,500 in its catalog of educational toys.


"I think the Etch A Sketch is a great way to get kids to make images without making a mess or wasting paper," added the Etchasketchist, a self-described "Etch A Sketcher" in Los Angeles who posts his creations on Flickr.


"And it's great at intuitively teaching kids about the intersection between art and math," he added in an email to AFP in which he asked to be identified only by his nom-de-doodle.


"The fact that a diagonal line is made up of minute combinations of up and down on the X and Y axes. You're doing calculus while you're drawing and you don't even realize it."


The classic Etch A Sketch, made in China since the mid-1990s, retails for $18 or less. Ohio Art also makes pocket and travel models, and a pink Disney Princess Etch A Sketch purse, and licenses an Etch A Sketch app for smartphones.


There's an Etch A Sketch cover for tablets, too. "It's fun walking through airport security with your iPad looking like an Etch A Sketch," Killgallon said. "You'll get a lot of comments."


In New York, FAO Schwarz, a unit of Toys "R" Us, is selling an Etch a Sketch encrusted with Swarovski blue crystals for $1,500, Friedland said. The upmarket toy store also has an original 1959 prototype on display.


- AFP/wm


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Source From Channel News Asia

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