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After Pog Came the Slug

JAY JORDENMay 10, 1995

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas (AP) _ First came the Pog. Now enter the Slug, but don’t let the name fool you: it’s by no means the slowest bottle cap spinoff.

Slugs have joined an exploding market for kids’ collectibles generated from the popularity of a Depression-era sidewalk game in which kids stack, flip and slam pasteboard disks.

The game was reborn two years ago, when kids began playing with colorful caps from a fruit drink produced on the Hawaiian Islands. The Pog that kids named from the juice went on to sweep the mainland, and now the disks have offspring.

The new products look like Pogs, slam like Pogs _ but don’t call them by that name. Instead, they’re Slugs, and they’re billed by Texas-based Pinnacle Brands Inc. as the first interactive bottle caps.

Sometimes Slugs look more like an ugly stepchild, displaying the gore, guts and blood that many kids love when the viewer tilts the disks.

``We took the design from the Garbage Pail Kids phenomenon of the 1980s,″ said Warren Sumner, Pinnacle manager of new products development. ``It just proves over and over again that the rebellious nature of kids makes them gravitate toward things that are off the beaten path and forbidden.

``That was the thrust behind the design,″ he said. ``Without being offensive, we wanted to be on the cutting edge of milk cap design.″

The maker of baseball trading cards and other collectibles believed that brighter colors and a high-tech design would also help attract kids.

``So coupling the grunge art theme with the advanced technology of `Magic Motion’ gives us a three-dimensional effect,″ he said.

The grunge includes the image of a large green snake emerging from a profusely sweating man’s mouth, a little green man throwing up and ``Roadkill Rabbit,″ a rabbit being run over.

Other names include ``Dis-Mem-Bear,″ ``Larry Lobotomy,″ ``Worm Pop″ and ``Brain Blaster.″

Sumner acknowledged that it’s difficult to walk the fine line between marketing collectibles popular with youth, but not offensive to their parents.

``We have found them not to be too irreverent, yet we have found them on the edge enough with kids not to be so goody-two-shoes that they are boring,″ Pinnacle Brands Chairman Jerry Meyer said.

``Not just kids _ people. I find that parents enjoy them maybe as much if not more than the children,″ he said.

In the game, each player begins with an equal number of slugs, with one flipped to pick who goes first. That player then ``slams″ the Slugs by throwing down a heavier cap and wins all the pieces that land face down.

The second and successive players repeat the process. The one who accumulates the most Slugs wins.

Pogs came about after a Hawaiian bottler first used the abbreviation P-O-G on the caps for its passion fruit, orange and guava juice mix. After taking hold in California, Pogs spread to Texas, Florida and then into Colorado and the Northeast.

But the California-based World Pog Federation claims exclusive rights to the word ``POG″ in capitals (it rhymes with frog).

So Pinnacle chose Slugs as a tie-in to the moniker for round metal disks used in place of coins, as well as slimy-sounding mollusks that fit the products’ theme.

The Slugs idea arose early last fall when a California company that works with Pinnacle’s optigraphic division was exposed to the Pog craze and suggested that Pinnacle develop a product line using its patented ``Motion Sickness″ process.

Since their introduction in mid-December, millions of Slugs have been made.

Sumner said the total Pog market is in the hundreds of millions per year. ``We knew that it would be a fast-hitting phenomenon similar to the Hula-Hoop,″ he said.

``Anything that is made in that category will be a collectible,″ said Joe Kaufenberg, president and owner of Universal Slammer Inc. and Legends Sports Memorabilia, based in Huntington Beach, Calif.

Sumner termed the company’s investment in the product line ``substantial″ but wouldn’t disclose costs of designing, printing, packaging and selling the 90 designs.

A major shareholder in Pinnacle, Sumner said, is Acadia Partners, an investment arm of Fort Worth billionaire Robert M. Bass.

A continuation of the Slugs line introduced in February ``entails more development of the characters presented in the original set as well as a couple of new characters such as Sergeant Slug,″ said Sumner.

The new series includes 45 different designs, with 20 ``slammers.″

The target market is youths aged 6-13. They purchase an estimated three-fourths of the Slugs, with the remainder bought by their parents and other relatives.

The company, which also produced trading cards with the optical-graphic process, is marketing Slugs in Canada, England, Finland, Germany, Mexico and Sweden.

``Kids have been playing with circular disks all over the world for a long, long time,″ said Russell LaCoste, president of Pinnacle division Optigraphics, which handles the promotional projects. ``This isn’t really a new game.

``But in the States, kids are glued in front of TVs and glued in front of computers and everything else,″ he said. ``So this could be a fad.″

The company also is developing other game pieces that would be more education, such as the ``Dino Cap″ picturing dinosaurs in historical settings, with their skeletal outlines viewed at the flick of a wrist.

Even using what Meyer called exclusive technology, Slugs are a low-margin product in a competitive market.

``We think it is wonderful to build quality brand names for the collector market,″ said Brian Theriot, vice president of marketing and promotions for the Costa Mesa, Calif.-based World Pog Federation.

``We look at them as major participants in a booming collector industry,″ he said.

But, he said, Pinnacle’s product isn’t a Pog.

``I like to say that all dolls aren’t created equal. There’s only one Barbie,″ said Theriot. ``And all collectible disks aren’t created equal: there’s only one Pog.″

End Adv for Sunday, May 14, and thereafter

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