Pandemic Toy Pop-It: How a Monkey Started a Trend

Status: 01.11.2021 12:35 p.m.

Silicone molds with small nubs that can be turned over with your fingers and make a pop noise: Thanks to the TikTok video platform, pop-its are the trend toy of the pandemic.

For some they are the perfect pandemic toy, for others they are simply pointless: the pandemic made pop-its a trend. They are based on a very simple trick. The sound of the hemispherical bulges being turned inside out is reminiscent of the bursting of bubble wrap, an occupation that many can pursue alone for hours. Because Pop-Its are silicone molds with soft bubbles that can be pressed down with your fingers. Once you have pressed in all the bubbles and reversed the shape, the fun starts all over again.

The popping silicone structures are available in all shapes and colors: dinosaurs, hearts, pineapples or cars that are sometimes brightly colored, sometimes monochrome. They have become an indispensable part of many children’s rooms. Pop-Its – also known as ploppers – have been popular for months, appearing on TikTok or Instagram, are exchanged in schoolyards and have triggered a hype, especially among primary school students.

The idea was born back in 1975

The idea is not new: Theo Coster and his wife Ora, the founders of the toy developer Theora Designs, invented the first prototype of the Pop-It back in 1975. But at that time there was no buyer who wanted to produce the toy.

In 2009, the sons of the late couple ensured that the pop-its became a trend after all: They signed a contract with the Canadian company FoxMind, which began producing pop-its for sale for the first time. The great success did not materialize at first. In 2019 FoxMind and its business partner Buffalo Toys signed a contract with the US retail chain Target. And Target started advertising with influencers.

TikTok triggers hype

The breakthrough of the silicone toy came thanks to the TikTok video platform: more and more videos appeared on the social media platform in which influencers play with the pop-its. The video, in which the “influencer monkey” Gaitlyn Rae is pushing around on a Pop-It, triggered an enormous hype on social media, and the sales figures skyrocketed, according to the manufacturer.

There are now numerous imitators who sell unlicensed products. FoxMind is therefore planning to recapture part of the market with more innovative, proprietary designs. Although product pirates made more money than they did themselves, the inventors’ sons are enthusiastic about the creativity that the family idea unleashes.

A sensible toy?

Proponents of the toy are convinced that the pop-its can reduce stress and increase concentration. Child psychologist Will Shield explained in an interview with the BBC that sensory toys activate one or more senses when used. The player’s attention is drawn to the game by strong emotions or negative thoughts when dealing specifically with a Pop-It, in which sight, feeling and hearing are activated.

However, there is also skepticism, especially in the school environment. With easily distracted children, pop-its could be counterproductive, says the professor for clinical child and adolescent psychology, Hanna Christiansen: “They harbor potential for conflict if children do not put them away despite being told by the teacher.” And there are also doubts about increased attention, as Sabine Martschinke from the Primary School Association emphasizes: “Viewing Pop-Its as a solution for hyperactivity and behavioral problems and also the desired development towards keeping fingers still can lead to problematic use.”

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