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How electronic toys made manufacturers think about older 'kids'

Electronic toys were becoming quite popular in 1980, leaving toy manufacturers with new customers to target.

In 1980, toy manufacturers were selling more electronic toys and starting to target older consumers

A group of teenage boys is seen checking out the latest electronic toys at a Toronto toy store in 1980. (The National/CBC Archives)

The image is a familiar one in the age of the smartphone.

A bunch of teenagers with their heads bowed, completely transfixed by the electronic gadgets in their hands.

In 1980, however, it was electronic toys that were capturing their attention — as well as that of The National, which reported that fall on the new type of toy that was making up an increasing slice of the national toy market.

"Canadians will buy $600 million worth of toys and games this year and half will be on electronic ones — toys and games that didn't even exist four years ago," the CBC's Lorraine Kimel told viewers on The National on Nov. 29, 1980.

Kimel said more than 200 such toys were on the market ahead of Christmas that year, ranging from products with price tags in the low double digits, up to a "home video unit" that cost $300 (or more than $900 in today's dollars).

Are kids bored of board games?

By 1980, electronic toys made up half the toy purchases being made by Canadians. 2:05

The National looked to Debbie Drillick, a Toronto toy salesperson, to try to explain how a parent could justify paying so much for a toy, when a board game could be purchased for far less.

"A board game, you can play about 10, 20, maybe even 30 times, and you get very bored of them," she said.

Drillick contrasted that with the home video unit, which let the user play a variety of types of games, depending on their interest.

"You've got more entertainment with something like this because the variety is bigger," said Drillick.

Not just for kids

Lorraine Kimel reported that Canadians would spend $600 million on toys and games in 1980, with electronic toys accounting for half of that business. (The National/CBC Archives)

Kimel said toy manufacturers had noticed the changes in their industry and were adjusting their business strategies accordingly.

"The toy industry in 1980 is different than it was even a couple of years ago. You can still find things like Barbie dolls and games like Risk, games like Spill and Spell, but the declining birth rate and the advances in electronic imagery have changed things," said Kimel.

"Toy manufacturers, who used to concentrate solely on youngsters, have now discovered teenagers and adults and that's a trend that's going to continue."