Nostalgia is the best-selling game of all: Marketing Captain Scarlet and Action Man are among the successful 'new' toys this Christmas that will be familiar to many parents

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The Independent Online
CAPTAIN Scarlet is having to do battle with more than just the evil Mysterons this Christmas. He is also fighting Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario the plumber for the top slot on children's Christmas lists.

For a brand that is almost 30 years old, Captain Scarlet is still pretty sprightly. According to the British Toy and Hobby Manufacturers' Association, he will be among the top three most popular toys in stockings this Christmas.

He is just one of a range of old brands being revitalised as toy marketers exploit nostalgic thirtysomethings who now have children of their own.

David Adams, director of business development at designers Tutssel St John Lambie-Nairn, which is working with a toy manufacturer on a number of projects, says: 'Marketing directors are looking back at their brand portfolios and thinking that these old toys will appeal to parents and, with a slight twist, can be adapted to suit today's kids.'

Peter Skinner of Hamleys, the world's biggest toy store, agrees: 'To every generation of children, toys are new. There is still plenty of life left in old brands and nostalgia makes it easier to buy toys for children, particularly if the children are not your own.'

Captain Scarlet merchandising is handled by Copyright Promotions, which shrewdly saw the possibilities of launching a range of toy products to coincide with the return of the Sixties' puppet series to TV this autumn. The company estimates that sales of the Captain Scarlet doll and accessories such as the Captain's Cloud Base could be worth as much as pounds 10m this year.

There is little doubt that TV programmes exert great influence over children and to an extent determine the toys they want to play with. Last year's big success story in the toy market, Thunderbirds, also followed its reappearance on TV. Anxious parents and children besieged toyshops as supplies of Thunderbirds Tracy Island ran short, and Christmas Day trauma was only avoided when the BBC children's programme Blue Peter demonstrated how children could make their own at home out of cornflake boxes.

Adults are keen to relive their childhoods - as BBC audience research indicates. As much as two-thirds of Captain Scarlet's 2 million audience are adults, watching it second time around.

Melvin Thomas, director of marketing at Copyright Promotions', says: 'I think Captain Scarlet is so successful partly due to parental endorsement. It's a programme that parents watch with a glow of nostalgia and they feel good about buying the toys for their kids. It's also a great programme, and kids like it because the puppets are so different from the animated cartoons they see every day.'

Another brand that trades on nostalgia and is now selling strongly is Hasbro's Action Man. The soldier with 'realistic hair, eagle eyes and gripping hands' was toy of the year in 1966, but his attraction palled during the late Seventies and early Eighties. Brand manager Sally Fitch says: 'Toys got smaller and more fiddly during that time, and Action Man got left behind.' The product was eventually discontinued in 1987.

However, Ms Fitch adds: 'Men in their thirties began to have children and thought to themselves, I really loved Action Man, but they couldn't buy it.' Hasbro responded by relaunching the product in January.

But while Action Man retains his military uniform and a menacing scar, the product has been updated to appeal to today's kids who are used to more high-tech toys. There are now four figures, including GI Joe who has an 'electronic sight and sound weapon'. There is also an enemy, the deadly Dr X. Research carried out on Hasbro's behalf by child psychologists indicates that boys have to identify both good and bad characters when they are role-playing. Hasbro will unleash a further seven Action Man figures and motorised accessories on unsuspecting seven-year-olds and their parents next year.

The only warning note against appealing to parents' nostalgia is sounded by Peter Lister, managing director of Atlascraft, which produces Meccano. He says: 'Until last year our marketing strategy focused on tapping parents' feelings of warmth and nostalgia about Meccano. But some parents are snobbish about giving their children toys that they had. There is a feeling that somehow it's not good enough. We now advertise solely during children's TV programmes, because we find that pester power works.'

Other products that marketing departments have recently dragged out of the closet, and are hoping that adults will warm to and kids will demand, include the drawing kit Spirograph (which will be relaunched next year), Rubik's Cube and the contortionist game Twister.

However, Mr Adams says that he suspects Twister 'is often bought by adults to play at dinner parties, because they are fed up with discussing their mortgages and want to have some good, safe fun'.

(Photograph omitted)