Worldwide yo-yo boom in the 1990s

Hello everyone,

I am fascinated by the yo-yo boom in the late 1990s that before the internet really happened, before Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube managed to make everyone around the world play yo-yo. I talked to many people from different countries and continents - but everybody experienced the same boom.

I have been told that this is related to a marketing campaign by Bandai / Hyper Yo but I would love to hear more about how a simple toy could conquer the entire world at about the same time without any technology as we know it today. I tried searching but I wasn’t able to find much information about it. I would really appreciate if you could point me to any interesting information, news articles, video clips etc.

Thanks a lot,

I was unaware of the worldwide yoyo boom in the late 1990’s. Sorry, I’d been using the internet since 1978. Granted, both have evolved a LOT since then. Oddly, after my failed efforts in yoyo in 1977-1978, I was using data-communication quite a bit. There’s no direct correlation, it just worked out that way. I was playing with modems before yoyo.

There’s been a few documentaries about this. I don’t know what their names are at the moment, but I have them safely stored on a hard drive. Most are recent and they do reference this. Based on what those said, it lines up with your statement saying it’s related to the Bandia/ Hyper Yo marketing.

I think finding old magazine and newspaper articles will be difficult to find. Most publishers do have archives, but they aren’t really dedicated to putting all their older stuff into an electronic format. Most are for archival purposes but they aren’t putting most of it on the internet.

PM me later on, I will dig up the drive and give you the names of those videos. I downloaded them off YouTube and Vimeo. It’s stuff that’s still up. A couple of them do directly reference that time period. I think it is an important period of time for this toy.

Part of this boom may also be related to the establishing of other, now prominent, yoyo companies. Yoyos such as the FAST 201 (YYF) and SpinJammer (YYJ) both came out somewhere around this boom.

As for a wonderful article on the founding of YYJ, check out this article at the museum of yo-yo history.

Playmaxx wasn’t purchased by Duncan until 2001 so I’d imagine YYF didn’t exist until at least 2002 or possibly 2003 as that’s when YoYo Wiki states the FAST 201 was released. The end of the boom might be sort of region specific but where I lived it was definitely over by 1999-2000.

The video that Nathan posted was the one I was referring to.

There’s a shorter one that I think involves someone from General Yo. It’s pretty good too.

Before the ubiquity of the internet, in-person marketing and promotion was a huge tool for yoyo companies. Company-sponsored teams used to be more visible as promoters and demonstrators than as contest teams. That goes all the way back to Donald Duncan. Even before Duncan, Pedro Flores used his talent as a teacher/demonstrator to sell yoyos. Duncan expanded that and hired a team of dedicated demonstrators (including Flores) to travel around and create interest in yoyoing. Those promoters played a big role in pretty much every yoyo boom up through the 90s boom.

In the 90s boom, teams like World Team Proyo and THP (Team High Performance) did a lot of that stuff, which they mention in the AYYA documentary. A lot of current figures in the yoyo world started in those roles. For example, Hans and Ben from YYF and John Higby were on the Proyo Team, and Yuuki Spencer and Paul Han were on THP. There were also local demonstrators who didn’t travel around for the big companies, or independent demonstrators doing school programs or things like that. For example, Doctor Popular started off doing demos for a mall kiosk or something like that. You can still see the performance-oriented skills these players picked up then, especially with players who focus more on shows than competitions (i.e. Ben, Higby, Steve Brown, etc).

You can hear one of the businessmen heavily involved in the boom talking a little about it in this video. That is mostly a promo/recruiting talk for whatever company he is with now (or was at that time), but at the beginning he talks a little about how he marketed yoyos during the boom. He is the guy who ran THP, which he doesn’t really talk about in the video, but you can see a picture of them in one of his slides and get an idea of how they were involved in running the promotions he is talking about. He does talk about the importance of putting a local teaching structure in place to keep kids interested.

To some extent, videos also played a role, just on VHS or DVD instead of YouTube. I remember when the boom hit our school, our teacher brought in a video for us to watch in class teaching the basics up to stuff like Split the Atom and Rock the Cradle in the Eiffel Tower.

As for why the popularity exploded at that particular time, who knows. It was one of those toy booms that seem to start and end unpredictably, like with a lot of toys (Tamagotchi, Tickle-Me-Elmo, Beanie Babies, etc). The suddenness and unpredictability of it was part of what put some companies out of business when it ended. In-person networks like local clubs and traveling demonstrators facilitated a lot of the connections and got the word out the way the internet does now, though. Those things also still exist alongside the online network and still help bring a lot of new players into the online network.

My theory, and it’s just that, is that skill based fads die out and go from a huge fad and into a smaller subculture kind of thing when the skill elevates to the point the average person can’t emulate at least some of what the pros do.

When the bar is relatively low to be considered “good”, it’s more attractive. But a few will rise to take the skill to a new level. As a result, only the “hardcore” will continue. New people exposed to it see it as something they can’t do and don’t take it up. Part of this comes from the success created by the fad. When people get paid to do it full time, they take it to a level the casual participant largely can’t.

Skateboarding and freestyle biking are two great examples. Look at a skate or freestyle video from the early 80’s. Both were huge fads in the early to mid 80’s. By the late 80’s, the Tony Hawks and Mike Muirra’s had taken the level of competition to the point where normal folks couldn’t emulate any of what they were doing and people went on to other things.

while it did happen before social media became so immense, the internet was a significant reason for the boom’s timing. sites like ken’s world (and later sector_y) made it easier to learn tricks. you could read reviews or purchase yo-yo’s online. and was around as early as 1997 and exploded with activity as the boom hit.

online technology, coinciding with ramped up performances by thp/world team proyo/others, the hyper marketing push, and WAY easier to use yo-yo’s created a perfect storm… and when the front passed, you literally couldn’t give your yo-yo’s away. i remember putting all but my custom mag predator into a box at my in-laws’ and thinking ‘these will be cool to look at in a few decades’.

Thanks everyone! I really appreciate your thoughts, stories, and video links (which I’ll look at right after work :-)). It is great to hear even first hand accounts of how it all came together! :slight_smile: