Etch A Sketch maker happy to be back in spotlight, sends boxes of toys to candidates

Ohio Art Co., maker of the classic baby boomer toy, is sending a big box of Etch A Sketches to the presidential campaigns to say thanks for the publicity and a boost in sales.

Eric Gay/AP
Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum holds an Etch A Sketch as he speaks to USAA employees during a campaign stop, on March 22, in San Antonio.

Pushed to the bottom of the toy box by video games and other high-tech gadgets, Etch A Sketch is suddenly drawing lots of attention, thanks to a gaffe that has shaken up the race for the White House.

Ohio Art Co., maker of the classic baby boomer toy, is sending a big box of Etch A Sketches to the presidential campaigns to say thanks for the publicity and a boost in sales.

It all started when Mitt Romney strategist Eric Fehrnstrom was asked Wednesday about the candidate's politics now versus next fall, and he likened the campaign to an Etch A Sketch: "You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again."

Democrats and Republicans alike seized on the remark as evidence that Romney is a flip-flopper willing to alter his positions for political gain.

GOP rival Newt Gingrich told voters in Louisiana that "having an Etch A Sketch as your campaign model raises every doubt about where we're going." Rick Santorum brandished an Etch A Sketch and told voters he is a candidate who stands "firmly on the rocks of freedom, not on the sands of an Etch A Sketch toy." Santorum's staff also handed out miniature Etch A Sketches to reporters.

While Romney's opponents are hoping the remark will erase his momentum and reframe the debate, the biggest winner might be Ohio Art.

Its stock, which trades over the counter, nearly tripled on Thursday, closing at $9.65, and major stores reported a jump in sales, said chairman Bill Killgallon.

"We're proud that one of our products is shaking up the debate," he said.

Ohio Art has sold more than 100 million Etch A Sketches worldwide since its introduction in 1960. The toy, with its familiar gray screen and bright-red frame, allows youngsters to draw things by twisting two white knobs. A quick shake erases the image and lets you start over.

Etch A Sketches were made in Ohio until 2000, when the company moved production to China because of increasing costs.

Over the years, Ohio Art and Etch A Sketch have benefited from millions of dollars in free advertising from movies and television. The company saw a big jump in sales after Etch A Sketch landed a role in "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2."

In fact, the toy gets so much free publicity that Ohio Art spends very little on advertising it.

The company, based in Bryan, doesn't release annual sales figures but says Etch A Sketch has a steady market. It's most popular with grandparents and mothers who are looking for a bit of nostalgia.

How long the latest bump will last is anybody's guess.

"I'm not sure that just because the candidates are talking about Etch A Sketch that kids are going to tell their moms to go out and buy one," said Martin Killgallon, the company's marketing director.

One thing the Etch a Sketch won't do is pick sides in the presidential campaign, he said.

"We have a left knob and a right knob," he said, "so we neutrally speak to both parties."

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