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The wraps are off Fisher-Price's latest incarnation of Sesame Street's superstar with the preschool set: Elmo....


The new Elmo T.M.X. plush character has been packaged in a "Top Secret" attaché case-like box due to months of unprecedented secrecy and buzz in the toy biz that this year's hottest holiday toy was in the offing. Clever, unique and eye-catching.
The major toy retailers have added to the excitement and anticipation by alerting customers of the toy's imminent appearance. Retail orders were written for the red, fuzzy, ticklish creature, sight-unseen, and shelf space designated.
After all, Elmo does have a history of sales success, and the stores wisely took pre-orders from customers to ensure they would be able to get them–as a result, an unprecedented number of pre-orders were taken. At $39.99 a pop, Elmo ought to be the king of the toy aisles once again!
The new Elmo debuted on Tuesday, September 19th on ABC's "Good Morning America" program, while customers began to line up at Toys "R" Us, Wal-Mart and KB Toys to quickly procure him for their children.
Elmo Tickle Me Extreme (also designated "X" to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the original Tickle Me stuffed doll) employs great new technology. Whereas the original Tickle Me Elmo laughed uproariously when his tummy was pushed, the new Elmo T.M.X.'s infectious laughing jags have him falling down into a sitting position, slapping his knee, falling backward onto his back, kicking his feet, rolling around on his tummy and standing back up!
He even has three ticklish spots and three different laugh and motion sequences which will delight any child, and probably make their parents laugh until they've heard it for the umpteenth time, and want to pull their hair out!
I've been involved in developing brand identities and package design in the toy business for over 20 years, and this latest unveiling fascinates me. Fisher-Price and parent company Mattel did a masterful job of building suspense and buzz in a way that is rarely seen in the toy industry. And it involved more than secrecy. The little "leaks" that came out only built suspense. Toy industry trade papers and pundits ruminated about what the new Elmo might be like. Toy retailers fanned the flames with customers and got them all excited about the latest, top secret version of Elmo.
I expect this new wave of Elmomania will make the toy the hottest seller of the holiday season, and I also suspect Elmo will sell out well before the holidays. All of this hype only adds to the new toy's desirability, doesn't it?
This makes me wonder why marketers don't try to generate grassroots excitement for potentially hot products more often. . . just by creating a little mystery, a date for an unveiling, a little press and buzz at retail, for example.
Obviously, not every product is going to be an Elmo T.M.X. But:
* How many products could be stars, if they didn't suffer from lackluster rollouts and half-hearted marketing efforts?
* How many products would be embraced by the customer right out of the chute if we just added some joy, or some fun into the marketing mix?
* Why shouldn't we have more Elmos?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ted Mininni is president of Design Force, Inc. (www.designforceinc.com), a leading brand-design consultancy to consumer product companies (phone: 856-810-2277). Ted is also a regular contributor to the MarketingProfs blog, the Daily Fix.