Our contributor takes a closer look at retro toy packaging and explains what modern products could learn from their ancestors...
Recently I was standing in my local supermarket and became temporarily rooted to the spot. I was staring at a box of Frosties.
I like Frosties, but I don’t usually stare lovingly at boxes of the stuff in the supermarket (I reserve that honour for Toblerones). What was different this time around was that the box of Frosties had been given 1950s retro packaging to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
The vintage design, complete with Tony the Tiger – who was much more appealing than today’s version – was simply beautiful. And after putting a box in the trolley, I noticed vintage versions of Coco Pops, Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes as well.
Retro packaging was all the rage, in fact, with Heinz Baked Beans and Colgate toothpaste among other products taking trips back in time. Not all the vintage looks worked as well as their modern counterparts, but I reckon that the retro packaging was generally more appealing.
This got me thinking about package design in the toy industry, and you know what? I reckon that retro package designs were somehow more appealing here too. Note that I don’t say ‘better’, just ‘more appealing’. Packaging for toys these days is generally far superior to what I was used to seeing as a boy during the 1970s.
The cardboard used is much sturdier, for a start, and the backs of modern boxes are generally printed up with useful product information or game rules (while the backs of old toy game boxes were often completely blank).
But that’s only part of the story. Get down to the most important element – the imagery on the box – and the tables are turned.
Who wouldn’t prefer the vintage KerPlunk to the modern version? It’s not that the modern boxes are bad, it’s just they don’t have the childlike wonder of the originals.
The 1967 Kerplunk box was designed to make children want it. It was incredibly simple, with a bold blue background, some outlines of children’s faces laughing and a drawing of the game itself.
Perhaps it’s simply the fact that retro styling inevitably comes back into fashion after a few decades, but I genuinely believe this is superior to the box artwork you’ll find on the modern version of KerPlunk. And it’s not just that the box looked so much better. It was so much bigger as well. Any parent will tell you that kids love big boxes under the Christmas tree, and in the film Toy Story, the toys themselves are awed by an enormous package arriving for Andy’s birthday.
I understand that smaller boxes mean that more can be fitted inside shipping crates, so there are economic forces in play here, but the old KerPlunk box was about twice the size of the modern one. That means, when it was encased in wrapping paper, it looked about twice as exciting.
I recently wrote a book on classic toys and sourcing pictures of original versions was extremely enjoyable. For some of the entries I bought stuff from eBay to photograph and, again and again, I came to the same conclusion – with Buck-a-roo, Mouse Trap and Master Mind, the older boxes held much more appeal.
The original Operation box included eyebrow-raising artwork of a surgeon smoking while performing an operation (the ash was even dropping off the end of his cigarette onto the patient).
Okay, I can understand why smoking isn’t generally a feature on modern toy and game packaging, and I think that is a step in the right direction.
But apart from that, I think there’s a lot we could learn from those wonderful retro boxes used for toys and games.