Thanks to FCC deregulation in the early 1980s at the behest of Ronald Reagan, the toy market of the 1980s was booming. Anything that could conceivably be promoted via cartoon was released, and it seemed like everything was suddenly a toy: cars that turned into robots, action figures that transformed into household items, even stuffed animals that transformed into pillows. Once toy producers saw the latter, they figured “why not cut out the middle man? Why not toys that were really just pillows?” And thus a subcategory that nobody knew they needed or wanted was born. Searching my memory and the Internet for examples of this phenomenon, I was able to come up with four. They range from puppy that functions as a pillow, to transformer, to two examples of just straight up screening an image on a pillow and marking it up $20. Let’s take a look at them below:
The genesis of this article was a viewing of the movie Big in my UCB sketch class, when I noticed one of these in Josh’s bedroom at the beginning of the movie. Until seeing that I had completely wiped these things from my brain, and it came flooding back. My sisters definitely owned them. The effort that went into conceptualizing and producing these things is so lazy it’s impressive. The ad firm that put together the commercial that is linked above definitely put more thought into it than they put into creating the product. Yet these succeeded, proving once again that everything is arbitrary and there’s no point in ever trying to make something good. $120 million in sales.
Now Popples, on the other hand, actually put in the work. I have an entire article on Popples that I’ll be putting out in the next few months, so I’m not going to go into too much details here, but kudos to the Popples for 1) taking full advantage of FCC deregulation to produce their weekly 21 minute toy commercials, 2) exploiting the nascent transforming action figure movement and expanding it into plush dolls, and 3) producing an actually decent toy out of the whole thing. And Popples were born in Northern Ohio, like me! (created by Those Characters From Cleveland, a subdivision of American Greetings)
These were a Tonka creation. Think Tonka only made trucks? Au contraire! Trucks and pillows! I realize fully that I bagged on the creativity and popularity of Pillow People above, and for all intents and purposes there are the exact same thing, but now I’m going to present my argument for why you should hold these in slightly higher esteem. To be honest, it’s all in the commercial linked above. Little kids love wrestling. Little kids watch wrestling, and after watching they want to try the moves out on somebody or something. Sometimes you try the moves out on your sister, risk breaking the bed, your sister, or yourself, and if mom (or even worse, dad) finds out you get in trouble. If it’s dad the yelling and implicit threats of corporal punishment are much scarier. If your sister is not around, already injured, or dad’s too scary, you use the husband pillow that’s on your bed instead. It has arms, like a person does, and can sell a suplex pretty well. But what if there was a third option, a pillow shaped similarly to the husband, but emblazoned with a passable rendition of the Ultimate Warrior on it? That’d be pretty sweet! I didn’t have any of these, so I stuck with the husband or Melissa, but it would have worked out quite well, I think! These must have done well, because they were introduced around 1990 and Mattel is still selling variations on them with current wrestlers. Plus, if you have a space billion dollars, you can get one of the originals on eBay!
Full Sized Pound Puppies
You might be saying, “John, you couldn’t come up with a fourth example of this toy subcategory you invented, and now you’re trying to pass off what’s really just a plush dog toy.” Granted, there’s validity to that argument. But also, I commissioned a survey, meaning I asked my wife and my friend Sarah Kennedy, and both of them had the bigger Pound Puppy, and at least half of them used it as a pillow (possibly 100% I didn’t confirm with Sarah). I also know that my sisters and I definitely did that with the bigger Pound Puppy, plus we still have a few at my parents’ house and I’ve seen my nephews use them as pillows, so that’s a pretty solid sample size. Also a pretty solid toy. Like I said, there are originals at my parents’ house and they’re still in excellent shape 35 years after they were produced. Also a Tonka toy, so Tonka produced trucks, Wrestling Buddies, and orphaned puppies. Also a cartoon! Also a cursory search didn’t reveal sales figures for these pups, so I’m going to assume they made an amount of money so large a new word had to be invented to measure it.
Did you play with pillow toys? Did you wrestle with a buddy, your sister Melissa, or a husband? Do you know what I’m talking about when I use the word husband? Let us know in the comments, or reply on Twitter.
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