Following months of hype first generated at February's Toy Fair, then stoked by speculative news stories and a three-week teaser TV ad campaign, the next-generation Elmo is the product of one-and-a-half years of planning, design and intensely secretive procedures. Fisher-Price's own salespeople, for example, were not allowed to see the finished product until this week. "I think it's nothing short of a miracle in today's internet-driven world that it didn't get out," said Gina Sirard, VP-marketing at Fisher-Price.
New and improved
No longer just a vibrating, giggling doll, this year's $40 Tickle Me Elmo starts out with a laugh, then raises its right arm in appreciation, then within seconds has rolled itself onto the floor to kick and punch with more laughter, only to help itself back up again.
"We believe he's the most famous 3-year-old in the world," Ms. Sirard said, "so we wanted to imitate how a 3-year-old would laugh when they're tickled. They fall over and they can't even speak."
The PR ploy led to high demand akin to the unexpected hoopla the first Tickle Me Elmo prompted a decade ago, with more than 80 eBay auctioneers already putting up their preordered Elmos for sale prior to today's launch. Ms. Sirard was happy to report only one retail sales leak, which she personally handled herself via a stern phone call to the store manager. "I have been called many names throughout this process," Ms. Sirard said.
Hot holiday toy
If preorders and first-day sales are any indication, one name sure to follow the TMX Elmo this holiday season is "hot." The mid-September launch of the product also comes relatively late in the season for the big holiday toys, but it was a perfect match for Toys 'R' Us.
"We're in the toy business 365 days a year," said Kathleen Waugh, director-public relations and special events at Toys 'R' Us. "We know this is going to be a big day for Elmo."