From LEGO to Slinky, Alum Toy Marketer Finds ‘What’s Old is Certainly New Again’
The Game of Life photo from Wikimedia; Slinky photo Roger McLassuss/Wikimedia; Strawberry Shortcake photo from Wikimedia; Pac-Man image from Shutterstock. Collage by Valerie Morgan
Whether stacking blocks into towering structures, sending Hot Wheels careening into each other, or braiding—or chopping off—Barbie’s hair, memories of how we played with our favorite toys as kids are easy to conjure.
For Genna Rosenberg ’95, it was caring for her first Cabbage Patch Kid, Alma Bridgette, which she received when she was 8: “I adopted her and I remember changing her diaper and dressing her,” said Rosenberg, who does public relations and marketing for a range of toy companies. “She was something I was responsible for, which really taught me how to love and nurture.”
Now Rosenberg is a mom of two and an enthusiastic champion for the ways that play contributes to children’s development and emerging sense of self—from unleashing creativity to cultivating empathy and resilience. Her Los Angeles-based company, GennComm, has worked to tell stories on behalf of toys and brands including SpongeBob and Pokémon; in 2021, she was named an official Toy Association Genius of Play Ambassador, and earlier this year, she was named License Global magazine's inaugural Catalyst for Change. (Her company also develops its own products, including the memory foam insides of Squeezamals.)
This semester she’s back at the University of Maryland to teach “Careers in the Toy Industry: Intersecting Gender, Trends and Social Impact,” a class in the Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies that exposes students to the diverse range of career paths within the $114 billion global industry, as well as the way these jobs can create social impact. As part of the course, students heard from toy company executives from Minecraft to Mattel and even traveled to Toy Fair in New York City.
Rosenberg, who majored in women’s studies and journalism, shared with Maryland Today some of her all-time favorite toys to consider adding to gift lists this holiday season. In spite of constant innovation in the industry (and ever present competition with screens and apps for kids), these classics never go out of style: “What’s old is certainly new again when it comes to toys.”
1. The Game of Life
The classic board game simulates a person’s journey from early adulthood all the way to retirement—with plenty of room for twists and turns that mimic the real thing. Players may experience different careers, marriage, the birth of kids and even financial ruin. This was the game that taught Rosenberg what it means to be an adult: “Games help children learn to navigate life within an existing framework, when rules are thrown at them.”
A famous jingle helped bring this (oft-tangled) toy to fame after mechanical engineer Richard James invented it by accident when springs designed to stabilize ship equipment fell from a shelf. The simple toy makes a “mesmerizing sound” and leaves kids in control, “which makes it timeless and really engaging,” said Rosenberg. Seventy-five years after its debut, millions of kids are still trying to get Slinkys to walk down the stairs without losing steam.
For many kids, something magical happens when they hold a microphone in their hands: “It literally reverberates your voice,” said Rosenberg, who remembers how the toy helped her unlock her “inner rockstar” and be “big and confident” when she was a girl. From a simple echo mic to a more modern Bluetooth karaoke version, there are many variations of this classic on the market.
4. Strawberry Shortcake
Gen Xers and older millennials may remember Strawberry Shortcake and her dessert-themed friends for their classic berry scents. Forty years later, she remains a wholesome and timeless way to “learn the core values of friendship and kindness,” Rosenberg said. In recent years, Strawberry even came back as a tween in a Netflix series.
5. Pot holder loom
DIY toys that empower kids to make beautiful, functional items introduce the joy of creating with their own hands—and what better than something that can provide protection from a hot pot? Bonus points if they give their creation away, which is a way to practice selflessness and build confidence, Rosenberg said.
Hailed as a pioneer in the realm of video games, this high-energy arcade classic has a simple premise: Eat all the dots inside a maze while avoiding four colored ghosts. Though there’s nothing like the original standup, Pac-Man continues to find receptive audiences through a range of gaming systems and mobile devices, as well as an unprecedented merchandise empire. After more than 1 billion people worldwide played a Pac-Man Google Doodle in 2010, Google gave the game its own page.
Though many LEGO sets come with step-by-step instructions and stated objectives, Rosenberg prefers the original way to play: hours of open-ended tinkering and inventing. Classic LEGO bricks help kids explore, get creative and problem solve. Lego, loosely translated, means “to put together” in Latin, and “there really is no wrong way to play with them,” she said.
Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.
Faculty, staff and students receive the daily Maryland Today e-newsletter. To be added to the subscription list, sign up here:Subscribe