Back in the 1980's Xerox had a rich email culture. . .but that's a story for another time. Here are a couple of items I sent to what began as "grumps^.pa" in the old Grapevine distribution list naming scheme, a forum dedicated to non-lighthearted mail.

Gag me with a Smurf

(A "Talk of the Town" piece in the February 25, 1985 issue of The New Yorker)


Last week, we dropped in at the Eighty-second Annual American International Toy Fair.

"Your basic human-type goodness is the hottest concept here, and Kenner is leading the way," said a happy young woman, one of what seemed to be hundreds of public-relations or marketing representatives available to steer visitors around the merchandise displayed at the fair, which was held in and around the Toy Center, at Twenty-Third Street. She represented Kenner, natch--one of the eight hundred and twenty-five exhibitors of the twelve-billion-dollar (retail sales last year) toy industry.

We took in the full force of Kenner's realization of the concept.

"Our hottest new item for 1985 is Hugga Bunch," the young woman went on, with the cheeriest manner we've seen this side of Ronald and Nancy Reagan. "Hugga Bunch is a whole line of eight dolls, all soft--even their faces--based on a whole concept of love, hugging, and togetherness. Kenner wants to show how important it is to show affection and love. Kenner believes that hugging and expressing your feelings is good. And this is where they live--each in their very own Hugga Nook or Nooklet in Huggaland, wearing their Hugwear. All in one hundred percent soft plush. The whole point is there's not enough hugging around. In the toy business today, your plush is Up, your high tech is Down. We want to spread the joy of hugging to everyone. We've even got a Hugga Bunch Creed: 'Promise to hug at least once a day. . .With each hug you get, give two away!'"

We toured the Up merchandise in Huggaland: Huggins, the leader of the Hugga Bunch, with her Hugglet named (don't stop us) Hug-A-Bye; Patooty, a hugger-in-training, with her Hugglet, Cushy; Hugsy, sort of a male doll, with his Hugglet, Tuggins; Tickles, with her Hugglet, Gigglet; Precious Hugs, with her Hugglet, Fluffer; Bubbles, a black doll, with her Hugglet, Chumley; Impkins, with her Hugglet, Nuzzler; Tweaker, a sort of Hispanic, not white, not black, with her Hugglet, Jitterbug. And the Hugwear: Sun 'N Fun Suit, Set-Sail Suit, Tutu Pretty, and Swimmy Suit. And, of course, the tie-in licenses: books, movies, albums, games, puzzles, etc.

Wait. Don't hang up. Louis Gioia, Jr., a short young man with a black Lincolnesque beard and thick black hair parted in the middle, who's vice-president of Kenner's Marketing Services, had more to tell us. He said, "Hugga Bunch in its singular, defined form has not been and cannot be imitated. Nobody else has a concept like it. We set up the concept. We dominate the market. We created our concept around what a parent and a grandparent feel. If you want to talk Hugga Bunch, it's the first humanlike plush doll. It's not a rag doll. It's plush. Plush is Up. The product is unique and is spreading the joy of hugging and showing of emotions. We can tell already that Hugga Bunch in 1985 is going to be bigger than Care Bears in 1984, when we did--its second year--two hundred million dollars plus."

"Care Bears?" we asked.

"You don't know Care Bears?" Mr. Gioia asked, with the most amazed expression we've seen this side of you-know-who again. "Care Bears was the hottest item of 1984. We've got three new Care Bears for 1985--Champ Bear, Share Bear, and Secret Bear, who talks, saying 'I promise I won't tell.' Tenderheart and Grams Bear--a lot of grandmas got a kick out of Grams Bear--were big sellers in 1984. Care Bears have more of an emotional-type concept. They help you express your feelings through the symbolism on their tummies. We set up this concept. We dominate the market. We have an embroidered tummy patch with a symbol on it--a big red heart. Tenderheart Bear. A competitor can put out 'I Love You' on the tummy of a plush elephant or monkey or bear, but it won't be Tenderheart. And it won't get anywhere without our merketing clout."

On to Coleco, maker of the Cabbage Patch Kids, for corroboration of this leadership-in-heartfeltness business. No corroboration. In the past year and a half, twenty million Cabbage Patch Kids have been "adopted." Over five hundred million dollars' worth.

"The Kid with the new tooth, the Kid with the eyeglasses, the Kid with the big ears are new," a Coleco P.R. woman told us. "Girl twins, boy twins, boy-and-girl twins are new. Kids' designer fun furs are new. Kids' playpens, Kids' carriers, Kids' merry-go-round, Kids' musical buggy. All new. The Kid Preemies have new outfits. Coleco wants to encourage big families. Preemies are shaped for hugging, for loving, and they all have newborn-Preemie clothes. We have all the accessories loving children want for their Kids. Our entire concept is based on love."

Hold on. One more. Susan Smith, a marketing director of Mattel Toys, told us abour Mattel's Heart Family of dolls. "It's a warm, loving concept," Miss Smith said. "The family is back in vogue, and we've got the only /family/ of dolls. The only family of dolls on the market. A family that's all heart. The whole family are sold together--Dad, Mom, and the boy-and-girl twins. They live in a lovely little home. They have a lovely little nursery with a baby's bed that transforms into a bath and holds real water, with a wickerlike high chair, and a play set, with a pony rocker, with a baby walker, with a toy bunny, with everything a baby could want. The Heart Family have their own lovely little new convertible, a two-door Volkswagen Cabriolet, with personalized license plate, with seat belts, with baby car seats. Their Loving Home is decorated in pastels. Where Mattel goes, so goes the industry. Nobody else has our family. The Heart Family are fabulous dolls. They're /family/. Who can not love /that/?

Yuppoid Greedheads Max Out; Greater Outrage "Infeasible," Say Experts

(Most of an article from the November 20, 1985, Rochester, New York Times-Union)

Single-minded purpose of 'self registry'? To get gifts

Cartoonist Garry Trudeau was kidding when he had one of his Doonesbury characters throw herself a wedding-style celebration after her decision to stay single.

But many of the nation's department-store chains--including Sibley's--are seriously encouraging single people to seek wedding-style gifts.

They've begun promoting a twist on the traditional "bridal registry" that works like this:

You go to a store and fill out a precise list of all the gifts you want--table settings, linens, appliances, clothing. You even list the colors and brand names you want. Then, when a birthday or any other occasion comes up, you let friends and family know that your wish list is on file.

It may sound like the ultimate in yuppie greed.

But the stores say it's a practical idea for an age when more and more Americans are postponing or ruling out marriage. Why, they ask, should only married couples get the things they need to set up a home?

"Today, singles are taking up a pastime once sacred to married people: They are feathering their nests, and they're doing it in style!" says a nine-page advertisement in this month's /Self/ magazine.

The ad lists a dozen store chains and manufacturers--including the makers of Wedgewood porcelain, Waterford crystal and Wamsutta linens--that have pooled their efforts to create The Self Registry: "a singular approach to the good life."

"Think of it," the ad says. "Gifts you really /will/ want. No more squeezed out thank-you's for miles-off-base presents, and no more guilt pangs when you decide you just have to unload some of the outstandingly weird ones."

The participating stores, including Bloomingdale's in New York City, even have provided post cards for registrants to send to friends, announcing that their gift wishes are on file.

Here in Rochester, Sibley, Lindsay & Curr Co. last month started a similar service--changing the name of its Bridal Registry to The Gift Registry. But it decided not to issue post cards,

"We're not really sure about the good taste of it, quite frankly," says Sharon Cross, director of special events and publicity for Sibley's.

[. . . .]

Patti Donohue, public relations director for McCurdy's, wonders whether single people can bring themselves to be so forward about seeking gifts for any occasion.

"I might come in and say, 'I want that $200 silk blouse or a microwave,' when someone else is just looking for a little $2 gift for me," Donohue says. "It's sort of like, /'Well!'/"

The Self Registry ad says it's all in just how you explain the idea.

"People who self-register are showing that they care about the time, money, and thought others put into buying them gifts--and they want to make sure that that time, money, and thought is spent wisely. It's really no different than when someone asks you for your holiday list or begs you to tell them /exactly/ what you want for your birthday.

"It's that simple and, when explained as such, it comes across as being that considerate."

May 29 1998