Billed in a $1,000,000 advertising campaign as “the toy that makes toys”, Parker Brothers’ Riviton construction system hit the market with impact in 1977.
Aimed at kids ages 6-14, the kit included flexible plastic shapes, rubber rivets, and a riveting tool. To build, kids placed the soft rivets onto the Riviton Tool and squeezed the handle. The pliable rivets stretched and fit easily into the holes of the plastic pieces. The Riviton Tool used mechanical action – no batteries or electricity required. The system’s flexibility and reusable rivets meant that kids could build and rebuild a wide variety of toys and models.
Parker Brothers launched the brand with three different sizes of sets. The 100 Basic Set contained 194 pieces, 103 plastic parts, comprised of tubes, wheels, panels, and brackets, plus more than 90 reusable rivets. The 200 Expanded Set allowed for more complex creations, thanks to its 270 pieces, 129 plastic parts, and more than 140 rivets. The 300 Master Set topped out at 357 pieces, 171 plastic assembly parts, and more than 185 rivets. Each set included “how-to” documentation ad provded a number of construction ideas.
Parker Brothers play-tested Riviton over a two-year period. Advertising at the time highlighted the more than “20,000 cards and letters from mothers” indicating their approval of the creative appeal, simplicity, and safety of the Riviton system. The company’s due diligence paid off, as the toy sold more than 450,000 units during the holiday season in 1977.
In April 1978, Toy Manufacturers of America notified Parker Brothers that an eight-year-old boy from Wisconsin had suffocated after swallowing a Riviton rivet. An investigation by the Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission concluded that the death was caused by product misuse and that Riviton continued to meet all industry and government product safety standards.
Cleared of wrong-doing, Parker Brothers continued to sell Riviton to the masses. Sales of Riviton continued unabated, quickly topping 900,000 units in its first two years. Parker Brothers had a genuine hit on its hands, one with the potential to become a reliable seller year-after-year.
Then, in November 1978, a second report of a child suffocating on a Riviton rivet hit the news cycle. That death was also ruled accidental – but Parker Brothers opted to issue a voluntary recall of the product line. They offered consumers a full refund if they returned the product to the place of purchase or to Parker Brothers directly.
In an interview about the decision a year later, Parker Brothers President, Randolph Barton, estimated that the recall cost the company $10 million, but also helped build “a more solid relationship with our consumers than ever before.”
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