Why The 1990s Are Back In A Big Way This Holiday Season

Posted by Rob Salkowitz on November 21, 2016

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This post originally appeared on Forbes.com

Children of the 90s may get a sense of déjà vu at toy and apparel stores this holiday season, as the cartoon and pop culture icons that defined their formative years are back with a vengeance. We’ve already seen the beginnings of the trend, from the revival of the Harry Potter franchise at the box office with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to the smash success of the Pokémon Go mobile game. According to data and forecasts from NPD and the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers Assn (LIMA), that’s just the beginning.

LIMA says Pokémon, fueled by the popularity of Pokémon Go, Pikachu and Friends, will dominate the toy, trading card and video game aisles – highlighted by Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon video games from Nintendo and Pokémon: My Friend Pikachu from TOMY.

Another major landmark of 90s childhood, NickToons animation, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year by reviving such Clinton-era favorites Rugrats, SpongeBob and Ren and Stimpy to Double Dare, Hey Arnold!, and even Slime.

“Nickelodeon has had a great year celebrating its 25th anniversary of Nickelodeon animation,” says Pam Kaufman, Global Chief Marketing Officer and President of Consumer Products, Nickelodeon. “We’ve found the renewed popularity of our properties is driven by the consumer. They’re nostalgic about the things that they grew up with and they love Nick as a brand.”

The big screen has a 90s vibe going as well. In addition to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them bringing the wizarding world of Harry Potter back to the cinema, Dreamworks revived the 90s property Trolls in a feature that debuted on November 4. Both are expected to pull through big piles of licensed merchandise, toys and apparel. The Trolls campaign is anchored by a toy program from Hasbro, books from Random House, along with arts & crafts, food, and more. Following the holiday season, Furby, the Power Rangers and a live-action Pokémon movie are slated for 2017.

Even the fashions of the 90s are back. Lisa Frank, whose unicorns-and-rainbows aesthetic adorned a generation of girls’ fashions and accessories, will be bringing her iconic images back to everything from gym-ready leggings, T-shirts, tanks, sweatshirts, body-con dresses, and crop tops, to sticker books, and adult coloring books.

What’s driving the first nostalgia boom aimed squarely at Millennials? Part of it is fond recollections of the simpler, pre-9/11 world and all the things associated with it. Plus, the generation born in the late 80s who experienced all this kid-oriented pop culture first hand are now in their late 20s. Many are starting families of their own and want to pass along their favorites to their kids. But considering that licensed merchandise accounted for over $251 billion in worldwide sales last year, there’s also a strong business component.

“We’re all attached to the things we grew up with – TV shows, movies, huge sports triumphs and defeats, historical events. We retain emotional ownership of them,” says Marty Brochstein, SVP Industry Relations and Information for LIMA. “It’s also extremely expensive and difficult to build an entertainment property or brand from scratch, with no guarantee of success. When you start with a known quantity, there’s still no guarantee, but the odds are better that a portion of your target audience will have a fond memory of the original, and that retail buyers will have a level of comfort that they’re supporting something that is likelier than not to come with a ready-made fan base.”

Brochstein notes that the nature of these characters makes them appealing to a global market as well. Some, like Pokémon, are international in origin in the first place. Others are being supported by global motion picture releases.

New technology gives licensors the power to create new kinds of experiences for old and new fans alike. Harry Potter wands come with a map and guests can directly “cast spells” to produce effects in both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

In support of Trolls, Hasbro released Trolls Hug Time Poppy Doll, which comes with a matching wearable Hug Time bracelet for kids that, when activated, both bracelets and POPPY’S hair light up to the beat of the music! Tomy International supported the release of the Pokemon Sun and Pokemon Moon video games with a Z-Ring. When a player uses a Z-Move in Pokémon Sun or Pokémon Moon, their real-life Z-Ring will light up, vibrate, and play sounds to go along with the video and sounds in the game.