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How Polio Shaped Candy Land and its Marketing
Today, everybody knows Candy Land. Six in 10 households with a five-year-old own a copy of the classic board game.
What many people don’t realize is that its origins stem from a deadly epidemic, and its decades-long popularity is driven by a marketing strategy that leans into evolving parenting trends.
Candy Land and the Polio Epidemic
In 1948, Eleanor Abbott was recovering from a polio diagnosis. The retired schoolteacher was surrounded by children on the ward. Kids confined to a hospital bed or, worse, an iron lung, had little to look forward to or entertain themselves.
So she created an escapist board game that transported children to the Rainbow Trail, Peppermint Stick Forest and Crooked Old Peanut Butter House.
Like many children who suffered from polio, the boy on the original board is wearing a leg brace.
The game was a huge hit with children on the ward. Eventually, Abbott pitched the game to Milton Bradley, which bought her prototype and started marketing the board game to parents with a unique set of concerns amid the polio outbreak.
In the 1950s, parents afraid of their kids catching polio kept them inside. Swimming pools were closed, and parents avoided large crowds.
Candy Land offered a way to keep kids inside – and entertained.
Advertisers latched on to this selling point. One Washington, D.C., toy store promised “this indoor game . . . will keep your youngsters happy for hours.”
Candy Land Marketing Gets Sweeter
Candy Land connected to a growing focus among parents on children’s education and social needs and providing age-appropriate toys to help their development. As consumer habits changed, Candy Land’s marketing strategy shifted with them.
The rise of children as a targeted consumer demographic in the ‘80s brought about a major rebrand for the game and the introduction of King Kandy, Queen Frostine, Lord Licorice and Princess Lolly.
Today, there are numerous spin-offs and product tie-ins, including Dora the Explorer and Winnie the Pooh. The brand’s marketing has found new ways to use age-appropriate learning to transport kids to fantastic places.