The insanity to which the little toy drove some consumers knew no limits. Standing in line for hours, fighting with fellow shoppers over the last one and paying hundreds of dollars on the Internet were just some of the lengths people went to own the hottest toy of the year.
Furby speaks in a foreign tongue-Furbish, of course-until its owner "teaches" it English.
The creatures also can sense with infrared detection when another Furby is near and then initiates an inter-Furby discussion.
The quick trip to hot toy began small. Dave Hampton, a toy designer in California, came up with the idea after watching the virtual pet craze. The former Mattel designer liked the interaction, but not the tiny screens and hard plastic designs. He wanted something more animated. Coincidentally, so did Mr. Shiffman. The only problem was getting it out in time for the '98 holiday season.
Tiger showed the product at Toy Fair 1998 to great reviews, technical glitches of the not-quite-ready demo product not withstanding.
"We knew we had a huge winner. We didn't know just how well it would sell though," Mr. Shiffman says. "Marketing is absolutely a key issue, particularly in this case because we had to manage the issue of this being a late product."
It was Mr. Shiffman who massaged the media and maintained retailers' confidence as the toy was retooled and prepared for launch.
Then a summer PR campaign resulted in an extensive Wired feature story and suddenly everyone wanted to write or talk about Furby. The result: 3,500 print articles and 2,500 TV mentions. The consumer frenzy began.
Mr. Shiffman and his team are working to make sure Furby isn't a one-hit wonder.
"Think of Cabbage Patch dolls. They went through the same frenzy and they still endure. Furby has enduring qualities. It's up to us to continue to innovate over