Hula Hoop Is Marketed Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Creative and effective marketing made plastic Hula Hoops into a worldwide fad, demonstrating the ability of such fads to drive a lucrative industry and to produce cultural icons.

Summary of Event

Arthur Melin got the idea of using a hoop for fun and exercise from Australians. Australian children spun bamboo hoops around their waists and hips in physical education classes and seemed to enjoy them. Melin and his partner, Richard Knerr, owned Wham-O Manufacturing Company Wham-O Manufacturing Company[Whamo Manufacturing Company] , a toy company in San Gabriel, California. They had already produced a plastic disk, the Frisbee Frisbee , that had done quite well. They decided to produce a wooden hoop modeled on those Melin had seen in Australia. Despite their efforts, it was unsuccessful. Hula Hoop Fads Marketing [kw]Hula Hoop Is Marketed (Summer, 1958) [kw]Hoop Is Marketed, Hula (Summer, 1958) Hula Hoop Fads Marketing [g]North America;Summer, 1958: Hula Hoop Is Marketed[05850] [g]United States;Summer, 1958: Hula Hoop Is Marketed[05850] [c]Trade and commerce;Summer, 1958: Hula Hoop Is Marketed[05850] [c]Marketing and advertising;Summer, 1958: Hula Hoop Is Marketed[05850] Melin, Arthur Knerr, Richard Linkletter, Art Saint-Phalle, Jacques de[Saint Phalle, Jacques de]

Melin then came up with an idea to reinvent the hoop. He decided to make the hoop out of plastic. Polyethylene, a nontoxic, lightweight plastic Plastic , was invented in 1935. Polyethylene was the perfect plastic for a children’s toy. The Wham-O plant produced a polyethylene tube formed in a circle and secured by a wooden plug and staples. The reinvented hoop was safer than most toys of its era, which were mainly constructed of metal or painted wood. This was the beginning of one of the biggest toy fads ever to hit the United States and the world.

Melin marketed his reinvention by taking some of the newly produced plastic “hula hoops” to a local playground. He then demonstrated how to use the hoop, something that eventually sold many millions of hoops. After a demonstration, he let the children try the hoops for themselves. Realizing that the reinvention was going to be a big success, Melin and Knerr tried to get it patented. They could register the name, hula hoop, but could not get a patent. Hula hoop became the generic name for many competing products.

Since Melin and Knerr could not get a patent, once their idea caught on there were many copies of the hoop with different names, such as spin-a-doos and hoop-de-dos. Art Linkletter, a famous television emcee, decided to get in on this profitable fad. He started his own company, which produced a hoop by the name of Spin-a-hoop Spin-a-hoop[Spin a hoop] . Linkletter was well known and used his fame to help market his hoop version. Many companies manufactured hoops, but because the fad became so widespread, there was room in the market for almost all companies that chose to enter. Competition often causes prices to fall and often eliminates the original producer because of the resulting loss of profit. Since Melin and Knerr did not have an enormous markup on their hula hoop to begin with, competition did not drive the price of a hoop down much or put them out of business.

The marketing idea of showing a product in use was not a new one, but it worked well for the hula hoop. Melin started out selling hula hoops to children on playgrounds after demonstrating the toy. This strategy continued to play an important role in the hula hoop craze. In Filene’s Filene’s department store[Filenes department store] , a well-known department store, a majorette hooped for hours as a demonstration. After seeing her hoop, children could not wait to do it themselves. Filene’s sold many hoops to enthusiastic children that day. This is the power of demonstrating a product that involves action. Toy stores often report a tripling in the amount of sales of toys that are demonstrated.

The result of Melin’s marketing was that in the summer of 1958, the Wham-O Manufacturing Company was producing about twenty thousand hoops per day and was still behind on orders. Although there were many competitors, the Wham-O Manufacturing Company was the leader in hoop sales. Even though the public came to refer to the generic item by the registered name of the most successful company, Wham-O dominated the market with its product. Customers often bought the real thing when shopping for a generic hula hoop.

One of the reasons the hula hoop was so successful is that it was marketed not only to children but also to adults. Adults used hula hoops while swimming, and hoops were a common sight at cocktail parties. Adults enjoyed hooping not only because of the entertainment value but also because it provided good exercise. Many clubs held contests, mainly for children, to see who could hoop the longest. The Brookside Swim Club in Union, New Jersey, had a record of three thousand spins held by a ten-year-old boy. Many parks had hundreds of children gather to hoop while their parents watched. There were even contests to see who could spin the most hoops at once. Hoops could be seen not only on hips but also around necks, legs, arms, and waists. All these games and contests greatly added to the success of the hula hoop. Every time an organization held a contest, the hula hoop received free advertising.

The hula hoop was inexpensive, priced around two dollars, and it appealed to large groups of both children and adults for entertainment and for exercise. By September of 1958, four million hoops had been sold in the United States. Like many products that become very popular in a brief period, the hula hoop just as quickly lost its popularity. Even though hula hoops were still available in toy stores during the 1960’s and the 1970’s, comparatively few were sold in relation to the craze of 1958. By the end of the 1960’s, the craze had long faded in the United States, but not before spreading to the rest of the industrialized world.


The United States fad for hula hoops quickly spread around the world. Countries including France, West Germany, Great Britain, Belgium, Finland, and Japan entered a hula hoop craze after the United States. The plastic hoop had spread to these countries by the end of 1958.

In France, Jacques de Saint-Phalle owned an industrial manufacturing company that made plastic tubing for laboratories and hospitals. After seeing the hula hoop do well in the United States, he decided to start making hula hoops. He thought that the simplest way to make hula hoops a fad in France was to get intellectuals and other members of the elite to use them first. He hired author Françoise Sagan to be the first intellectual to be seen hula hooping. This marketing strategy had enormous success, and soon the hula hoop craze had spread across France.

France’s neighbor, Germany, also became part of the hula hoop fad. Boxer Max Schmeling and his wife, former film actor Anny Ondra, had pictures taken while hooping. The celebrity marketing strategy worked there as well.

A German store used another marketing strategy, not a common one. The store offered night delivery of a well-disguised hula hoop for childless adults who were too shy to openly buy a hula hoop. In this case, the store owner knew that many potential buyers were too embarrassed to buy hoops. Innovative sales tactics captured these customers.

Great Britain also became a participant in the hula hoop craze. Although there were no specific new marketing techniques used by manufacturers in Great Britain, word-of-mouth marketing generated tremendous sales. Many people had heard of the hula hoop craze in the United States, and when hoops became available in Great Britain, stores could not keep up with the demand. Millions of hoops were sold.

Many people used the hula hoop as a form of exercise. A Belgian boat going on an Atlantic expedition took twenty hula hoops for its crew for both fitness and entertainment. The hula hoop fad did not exclude Belgium, and many hula hoops were sold for the same reasons that the boat’s crew took them.

Finland got involved in the craze with the use of games and contests. Children all across Finland entered hoop marathons with hula hoops not only around their hips but also around their necks, knees, and legs, all at once. One Finnish boy could keep seventeen hoops going at the same time. Displays of this type led to individuals desiring more than one hoop. Although such displays sold many hoops, they were a result not of a producer’s efforts but of a child’s imagination. Manufacturers, however, were quick to capitalize.

The hula hoop craze hit Japan harder than it did most countries. A clever marketing technique was used in Tokyo from the start. Tokyo department stores sold tickets to people entitling them to hula hoops at a later date. This technique made it appear that there was a limited number available, creating an illusion that everyone wanted one. Once that illusion is created, it can become self-fulfilling, as in this case. Other techniques were also used in Japan. In department stores, girls hooped for hours as a demonstration, creating sales in the same manner as demonstrations worked elsewhere. The prime minister of Japan received a hula hoop on his sixty-second birthday—another example of celebrity involvement.

These powerful techniques worked so well that by December, 1958, more than three million hula hoops had been sold in Japan. Since there were so many hoops in the crowded cities, there were several accidents involving hula hoops. One incident involved a small child who ran into the street after a hula hoop and was run over by an automobile. Soon after that accident, the Japanese passed a law banning hula hoops in the streets because they were a traffic hazard.

The hula hoop craze that started in San Gabriel, California, swept the world. Although there had been other fads in children’s toys in the United States, such as the yo-yo, none was quite this big. The marketing techniques used to promote the hula hoop are a large part of why the craze was so enormous. Even though many of the marketing techniques came about accidentally, like contests, they still had a dramatic effect on sales. After this example, many toy fads would hit the United States. Hula Hoop Fads Marketing

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Butterfield, Roger. “Whole Country Hoops It Up in a New Craze: Big Business That Will Sell Fifteen Million Plastic Rings Unlimbers Hips, Gives Heaps of Fun to the Uninhibited.” Life 45 (September 8, 1958): 37-40. Gives good indication of the immense popularity of the hoop. Features many pictures of all types of people, children and adults, hula hooping.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gronow, Jukka. The Sociology of Taste. New York: Routledge, 1997. General study of fads and fadism; helps place the hula hoop fad in the history of popular culture. Bibliographic references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Hooping It Up.” Time 72 (September 15, 1958): 85. Details on the origins of hula hooping. Gives history of the plastic hula hoop, including the errors made before the successful product was discovered. Photograph of hula hoop creators Arthur Melin and Richard Knerr.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Hula-la!” Time 72 (December 1, 1958): 28. Discusses how the hula hoop craze spread from the United States to many different countries. Describes different marketing techniques used in different countries to sell the hula hoop.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Newhouse, Elizabeth L., ed. Inventors and Discoverers: Changing Our World. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 1988. Detailed descriptions of many inventors and discoveries. Describes the invention of the plastic that hula hoops were made from. Scientifically and technically oriented inventions and discoveries are the focus.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Nippon Hails the ’Hoopu’.” New York Times Magazine (December 7, 1958): 103. Provides details on the hula hoop in Japan, including sales volume. Many examples of the hazards of the hula hoop and laws against it in Japan.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“The Whirl of Hoops.” Newsweek 52 (September 8, 1958): 56. Discusses origins of the hula hoop. Describes the inability to get a patent and the rush of manufacturers to copy the hoop. Mentions other novelty items related to the hula hoop.

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