BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- The Snuggie blanket launched nationally on direct-response TV in October, just as the economy was slowing to a crawl, so the timing seemingly couldn't have been worse. However, it turns out the timing couldn't have been better.
The quirky little blanket with sleeves has become the raiment of the zeitgeist, with more than 4 million units sold in just over three months and more than 200 parody videos on YouTube. Fox News honed in on a woman wearing a Snuggie as she braved the cold attending Barack Obama's inauguration on Jan. 20, five days after Ellen DeGeneres donned one on her daytime talk show.
Ms. DeGeneres has joined a host of folks mocking the oddball Snuggie ad, which shows people chatting on the phone down on their sofas or attending sporting events in a garment that looks like something out of "Star Wars" or a Franciscan monastery. One of the most popular ads, with more than 125,000 views as of last week, proclaimed a "Cult of the Snuggie." Its opening text declares: "In a godless and cold world, there is but one place to seek warmth and salvation" as a segue into the next two minutes.
With 4 million of the blankets already shipped or on order, or just under $40 million in retail sales, Scott Boilen, president of Allstar Marketing Group, Hawthorne, N.Y., is laughing all the way to the bank. The company behind the Snuggie is moving the blankets out the door as fast as it can get Chinese suppliers to crank them out.
That's sometimes frustrating for customers who want them faster than the promised four-to-six-week delivery time, he said. "People want this product so bad, they want it as soon as they order it," Mr. Boilen said. "And we received so many more orders in the beginning than we anticipated."
Snatching up Snuggies
He said he's heard reports of customers swamping stockers and grabbing all the Snuggies before they even reach the shelves at Bed, Bath & Beyond or Walgreens, the first two retailers to carry the blankets.
The timing worked well on many fronts for Snuggie. With conventional advertisers pulling back, remnant time for direct-response ads has swelled. And because apparel and other consumer-product sales are down, plenty of idle Chinese factories are eager for business.
Ads tout the Snuggie as a way to cut heating bills and let folks curl up on the sofa with their hands free. With a growing number of consumers hunkering down and looking to save money, two Snuggies and two book lights for $19.95 is starting to look like a pretty good deal.
And something about the Snuggie just matches the spirit of the times. "It's a tremendous value in today's tough economic times," Mr. Boilen said. "In this type of economy, people are looking for a value, and this is certainly a value at the price point. ... People are staying home more, and it makes them feel good."
The ad somehow has become part of pop culture, he said, though Allstar Marketing has done nothing so far to cultivate any of the viral buzz or media appearances, including a Facebook fan club with more than 4,000 members.
Mr. Boilen's company has also been behind such DRTV kitsch as Debbie Meyer Green Bags, Aqua Globes and the Topsy Turvy tomato planter. But Snuggie looks like it could end up being the biggest hit, particularly after it expands into a whole range of Snuggie products and full retail distribution at the likes of Walmart later this year.
Generally, the DRTV model has been to come as close as possible to breaking even on sales of product, less media cost, and make profit when products roll into stores, Mr. Boilen said. Snuggie is one of the rare products that projects as profitable this year even before full retail distribution.
Fred Vanore, president of Blue Moon Studios, which produced the Snuggie ad and has also made DRTV ads for conventional marketers such as Procter & Gamble Co. and Church & Dwight's Trojan, believes Snuggie worked "because its time has come."
When Allstar brought the concept to him, he thought of his wife, struggling to keep a throw on as she watched TV in the house and the dog jumped up on her lap. Other scenes, like the family wearing Snuggies to a football game, were intentionally over the top.
"We weren't afraid to have a little fun," Mr. Vanore said. "You may laugh, but when you try it, you really love it."
Snuggie was not, in fact, an entirely original idea. Gary Clegg, a Maine University student, developed a similar product in 1998 -- the Slanket, still sold online and through retailers. But its positioning is largely as a green alternative for lowering heating bills, and its price is $44.95.
"There are very few truly original ideas in this business," Mr. Boilen said. "If the first car that was developed was the only one today, that wouldn't be too good, either."
SlanketLoungin, located in Denver, didn't return calls for comment. Data from Compete.com show getsnuggie.com got more than 300,000 visitors in December. But theslanket.com has obviously benefited from some search spillover: Its traffic increased sevenfold since October to more than 75,000 visitors.
Ultimately, however, it was the quirky problem-solution DRTV ad that made the difference, not the design, said Doug Garnett, president of Atomic Direct, a Portland, Ore., direct-response agency that didn't handle the brand.
"Imagine a product like that just sitting on a retail shelf with no ad," he said. "No one would buy it."