If you grew up in the ’80s, you probably had Wacky WallWalkwers. These sticky and creepy crawling gummy toys were some of the hottest toys during that decade. The Walky WallWalker is a simple idea – an eight-legged, octopus-shaped rubber contraption that sticks to the wall after you throw it. Yet 80’s kids got so stuck with it. It’s probably because it was meant to be abused.
Do you want to vent your frustrations? Throw some Wacky WallWalkers against the wall. Then watch them cling, quiver, and start their slow but wacky tumble down the wall.
Children, in particular, are fascinated by sticky and slimy things. The person behind Wacky WallWalker, Ken Hakuta, knew that all too well. The Japanese-American inventor and television personality, popularly known “Dr. Fad,” found that a simple gummy toy could have a hit fad potential.
It all began in the fall of 1982 when Hakuta’s young son Kenzo received a present from the latter’s grandparents from Tokyo – several sticky octopus toys, which were called Tako (“octopus”) in Japan. Hakuta found himself fascinated with what was a mere child’s toy and realized that it had a big marketing potential.
Tako were popular toys in Japan. After learning that no one had bought the American licensing rights to them, Hakuta decided to take a gamble. He pulled his life savings together, amounting to $5,000, and used them to purchase the rights from the toy manufacturer in Japan. He started marketing these sticky toys locally in Washington, D.C., dubbing them as “Wacky WallWalkers.”
At first, Wacky WallWalkers’ popularity was fair to middling, until local newspapers such as The Washington Post ran feature stories on them. Not long after, CBS Evening News did a brief coverage of the Wacky WallWalkers. All of a sudden, the sticky-legged rubber toys garnered national attention. Hakuta said at the time that following the buzz around the toy, “the phone rang for 2 ½ months. People came to my house in limos looking for WallWalkers, and they made emergency calls, breaking into our phone conversation trying to order them.”
At first, Hakuta committed himself to 300,000 orders – the numbers were already high for a small business. But almost immediately after the buzz, he received seven million orders. By January 1983, orders went up to 15 million. Hakuta said at that time, “These are solid orders, from major chains – Woolworth’s, K mart, Revco and Thrifty Drugstores.”
It could have been super great news for Hakuta, but the initial problem was how to meet all of those 15 million orders when his company could deliver only 200,000 a week. He said at the time, “And as they say in fad marketing – every day is a year. It was a real problem.”
He later found a solution: to increase production to five million per week by constructing new molds. He then set up a factory in Korea to control production, quality, and costs.
To cut a long story short – thanks to the wacky Hakuta, the Wacky WallWalkers crept their way to the West. The spindly and sticky-legged creatures became a big hit with the Americans. Slimy rubber things became the rage. Not surprisingly, the Wacky WallWalkers inspired a bunch of imitators who began to produce rubber spiders and caterpillars, and even fly-eating frogs with coiled tongues.
As the fad began to peter out, over 240 million Wacky WallWalkers had been sold, earning about 80 million dollars!
Thanks to the fleeting popularity of the Wacky WallWalkers, it also opened a new career for Ken Hakuta: as host of the popular TV show The Dr. Fad Show where kids showed off their own inventions, displaying their knack for creativity and ingenuity. It was from this show where Hakuta earned the nickname “Dr. Fad.” The Dr. Fad Show ran from 1988 to 1994.
Wacky WallWalkers whooshed past like someone who is quickly hurled against the windshield. But unlike the latter, there’s no harm done to these squishy and slimy crawlies. No matter how hard you thrust it against the wall, the sticky, spindly toy will still come out alive and well. Sure, these toys would attract dirt and dust like a magnet. But it takes one simple rinse under the tap, and these toys will, miraculously, retain their stickiness for the next wacky wall-waking.