Who would have guessed back in 1996 that Tickle Me Elmo, a newly released plush toy, would become the hot new sales sensation that Christmas? He was “just” a funny little bundle of red fur who laughed hysterically when you tickled him. And yet since that time Tickle Me Elmo and his successors have topped the sales charts for several Christmas seasons.
This year promises to be another hot sales year for the Elmo line of plush dolls with the introduction of Elmo Live! by Fisher Price. Some stores are currently limiting the quantity you can buy in anticipation of hot sales numbers. Here are 19 fun facts about the sales sensation started by the little red guy who laughs.
1. Tyco introduced Tickle Me Elmo into the United States markets in 1996. By Christmas Elmo had become a sales phenomenon.
2. Elmo saw a jump in sales after Rosie O’Donnell featured the doll on an episode of her show in October of 1996. Whenever a guest said the word “wall,” Rosie threw a doll into the audience.
3. A similar jump in sales occurred that same year after Bryant Gumbel held a doll during most of an episode of the Today Show.
4. The day after Thanksgiving of 1996 Tickle Me Elmo sold out in 2 hours in most stores throughout the country.
5. Tyco originally expected 400,000 Elmos to sell that first year. They easily sold that many and were unable to meet demand through Christmas despite their continued urgent manufacture of the doll.
6. The shortage in supplies drove some parents in North America to extreme measures. Parents actually fought each other in stores over the doll.
7. Prices shot up with classified ads in some newspapers advertising the toy for hundreds of dollars. One report claims that the $28.99 toy sold for as much as $1500.
8. Several stories of injuries around the nation were reported. For example, on December 14, 1996 at a Wal-mart in Fredericton, New Brunswick a crowd injured a clerk when they spotted him holding one of the last dolls in stock.
9. The New York Daily News reported an unusual story. John Gotti, Jr., son of the reputed mob boss, purchased a case of Tickle Me Elmos at a store in Queens, New York several weeks after the doll had sold out. Store officials said Gotti “was just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time.”
10. The vibrating feature of Elmo uses a larger version of the vibration motor found in cell phones and game controllers.
11. In 1997 three new Tickle Me dolls were released: Tickle Me Ernie, Tickle Me Big Bird, and Tickle Me Cookie Monster. None of them have matched the mysterious success of Elmo.
12. In 2001 a “surprise edition” of Tickle Me Elmo was released as part of a contest. On January 9, 2002 five of the dolls stopped laughing. They then announced to their owners that the owners had won a prize, the largest being a staggering $200,000.
13. The TMX – meaning either Tickle Me Extreme or Tickle Me Ten (where “X” is the Roman numeral 10) — was released as part of a 10th anniversary commemoration of the first doll. TMX Elmo expanded Elmo’s laughing behaviors to include rolling around on the floor and smashing his fist on the ground.
14. In a well-executed marketing promotion, the manufacturer built excitement for the TMX by shrouding TMX Elmo in secrecy prior to its release. People who reviewed the product prior to its release were required to sign confidentiality agreements that prevented them from disclosing details about the doll early.
15. The TMX Elmo marketing promotion included pre-release sales of the doll. Amazon took more presale orders than it could fulfill.
16. The full look of the TMX doll was first revealed on ABC’s Good Morning America.
17. The box for TMX Elmo hid the doll from view until it was purchased. A “preview flap” on the box only let you see Elmo’s eyes, and he said, “Ah, ah, ah, ah! No peeking!”
18. A 2007 version of the doll featured hidden messages that Elmo would only say if you did just the right things to the doll. Rhyming clues on the manufacturer’s web site helped consumers figure out how to trigger the special messages.
19. The 2008 version of the doll is called Elmo Live! He features a whole new set of actions and sounds, making him the most advanced version of the popular Elmo dolls. Sales of Elmo Live! are expected to be brisk for the Christmas season. With the economic difficulties we are having this year it will be interesting to see how well Elmo Live! sells.