Just you, a shopping cart, and a store full of toys. What will YOU do?
I mean, didn’t we all ask ourselves this question at least once in our Nickelodeon-watching lives?
I know I did!
Last week, when I took the week off from writing with the promise of a total goody of a weekly article, I did not lie. This one is not only a goodie, it is a history lesson and a gem all rolled into one. Part Flashback Friday, part “Do You Remember?”-style article like the ones I wrote in 2019 and 2020. Instead of retail stores, board games, toys, video games, and production companies, we’re talking about shopping carts full of toys and races through the store that was just for kids, sponsored by the network just for kids, where only kids could win. And the best part of the magic behind this incredible yearly treat was that it lasted far longer than I believed it did, and probably only ended because one of those “just for kids” operations ceased.
Friends, we’re digging into the wonderful world of the Nickelodeon Super/Great Big Toy Run.
But first, in the true spirit of Flashback Friday, a word from the sponsor back in 1989, and a reminder of what the Super/Great Big Toy Run was…
My aspirations to compete in the Toy Run were not the kind that woke me up in the middle of the night, trust me! I wanted to keep those going in my beautiful, crazy dreams.
I’m sure it goes without saying that everyone wanted to do the Nickelodeon Toy Run at some point in their lives. The idea of having five minutes to grab everything your little heart desires, as long as it fit in your shopping cart, was the ultimate fantasy.
The Story of The Contest Only For Kids, By the Network Only For Kids…
Nickelodeon began their Super Toy Run (as it was originally called) in 1984. The premise was simple – enter your name into the contest by mail or at your local Toys R Us store (Kay-Bee Toys handled the festivities in the late 1980s and early 1990s), get chosen, get five minutes (three minutes for the First Place Winner) to Supermarket Sweep your giant (well, giant for you!) shopping cart around the store, collecting as many toys as five/three minutes, your hands, and your knowledge of the store layout allowed.
What you grab is what you keep! Not so lucky to win one of the two Grand Prizes? Don’t worry! Runners up received gift certificates for Toys R Us. While that lacked the thrill of five minutes of instant gratification, it still allowed you to pick out something cool with your mad shopping skills and knowledge of the store layout.
As a kid, seeing the annual advertising for the Super Toy Run always filled me with excitement. The concept reminded me of that recurring dream I had for years where I was locked in Toys R Us overnight, getting to play with everything. The toys always changed as I grew up, but the actual plot of the dream was always incredible.
And Toys R Us marketing clearly knew about that dream, because they made it into a commercial when I was in high school:
Oh yes, always all for them. Always good to know Toys R Us recognized this!
The annual event had a bevy of kid-focused sponsors in Toys R Us, Kay-Bee Toys, Burger King, General Mills, McDonald’s, KFC, Hasbro, SEGA, and Friendly’s, and of course, The OG Kid’s Network, Nickelodeon (this is not an exhaustive list). Even staple Nickelodeon host Mike O’Malley took time off from gameshow hosting duties to host the Toy Run in the ’90s! The dream is even more complete if you can get him to say “do you have it?”
If I Got To Do The Toy Run…
Obviously, getting to do the Toy Run was a big deal for a kid, and I’m sure all of us who didn’t enter the contest (I never did) still had our method of attack plotted should we ever have decided to take a chance and enter. Honestly, I’m not sure why my brother and I never took the chance and entered the contest growing up. We watched Nickelodeon through the mid-1990s – it was pretty much on constant rotation during the weekdays after school, all day during the summer, and all weekend long. Having watched the network until the summer before ninth grade (by that point, just on the weekends and only for the game shows), we weren’t blind to its existence. Heck, if I won it, I would have grabbed something he liked.
I’m nice like that.
Honestly, if I got to do it, and this is coming from 39-year-old me, the wish list would have evolved over the years. At 5-6 years old, I would have wanted cassettes/clothing for my Cricket doll, My Little Pony playsets, Sweet Secrets, Jem dolls, and I’m sure whatever girlie stuff was hot at the time. By the time I was 7-10 years old, I would have been grabbing video games, videos, Polly Pocket toys (especially that coveted water slide one!), audiocassettes, and I’m sure even a doll or two.
I mean, I already had my pink boombox, and you know in the 1980s, that was EVERYTHING!
But I would have grabbed some of those awesome Pocket Rockers, especially one of those Memphis Milano-style players. I’m not above having multiple sources of music enjoyment!
The End of The Run
The Super Toy Run, like all good things, came to an end in 2000. But, like all good things, couldn’t be kept down forever. Re-christened in 2010 as the Great Big Toy Run, the excitement picked up again, allowing a whole new generation of aspiring Supermarket Sweep-esque kids to live out their toy-grabbing dreams once again. But sadly, that ended in 2018, and probably for the most obvious reason…no more Toys R Us.
Unfortunately, I can’t really find anything from those later years, on YouTube, but I did find this great international commercial from Nickelodeon South Africa, from the 2016 contest. Viewers could vote for the kid they wanted to send to New York City for the ultimate competition, based on what they accomplished in their sixty-second runs!
I don’t know if getting to run the aisles at Wal-Mart or Target has the same appeal as Toys R Us, to be honest.
But of course, we can relive the incredible life of the Toy Run’s Golden Years through commercial, right?
And Now, You!
Did you ever dream of running the aisles in the name of getting all the toys? Did you ever enter the contest, or know someone who did? Did you win? Did they win?
I would love to hear your stories of what you would have grabbed, if you had the chance. And if you know someone who actually did get the chance (or that someone was you!), I would love to hear about what you DID grab! My biggest aim is to not only share my personal nostalgia and dreams, but to read about your experiences about the topics I put forth. That, my friends, contributes to the lifeblood of Allison’s Written Words.
Have a great day, a great weekend, and crush those boys like the bugs that they are.
Hey, everyone had a strategy for how they would conquer the entry process, it wasn’t just about how you would conquer the actual Toy Run.