Who would have imagined in 1996 that Tickle Me Elmo, a newly released plush toy, would become the new sales sensation that Christmas? It was “just” a funny little bundle of red fur that laughed hysterically when you tickled it. And yet since then Tickle Me Elmo and its successors have topped the sales charts for several holiday seasons.
This year promises to be another big sales year for the Elmo line of plush dolls with the introduction of Elmo Live! from Fisher-Price. Some stores are currently limiting the amount you can buy in anticipation of hot sales numbers. Here are 19 fun facts about the sales sensation started by the laughing little red man.
1. Tyco introduced Tickle Me Elmo to US markets in 1996. By Christmas, Elmo had become a bestseller.
2. Elmo experienced a surge in sales after Rosie O’Donnell featured the doll on an episode of her show in October 1996. Every time a guest said the word “wall,” Rosie would throw a doll into the audience.
3. That same year saw a similar jump in sales after Bryant Gumbel held a doll for most of an episode of the Today Show.
4. The day after Thanksgiving 1996, Tickle Me Elmo sold out in 2 hours at most stores across the country.
5. Tyco originally expected to sell 400,000 Elmos that first year. They easily sold out that amount and were unable to meet demand over Christmas even though they continued to rush manufacture the doll.
6. Supply shortages prompted some parents in North America to take extreme measures. In reality, the parents fought each other in the stores over the doll.
7. Prices skyrocketed with classified ads in some newspapers advertising the toy for hundreds of dollars. One report claims that the $28.99 toy sold for up to $1,500.
8. Various injury stories were reported across the country. For example, on December 14, 1996 at a Wal-mart in Fredericton, New Brunswick, an employee was injured by a crowd when they saw him holding one of the last dolls in stock.
9. The New York Daily News reported an unusual story. John Gotti, Jr., the son of the alleged mob boss, bought a box of Tickle Me Elmos from a store in Queens, New York, several weeks after the doll sold out. Store officials said Gotti was “lucky to be in the right place at the right time.”
10. Elmo’s rumble feature uses a larger version of the rumble 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 they had won a prize, the largest of which was a staggering $200,000.
13. The TMX, which stands for Tickle Me Extreme or Tickle Me Ten (where “X” is the Roman numeral 10), was released as part of the 10th anniversary commemoration of the first doll. TMX Elmo expanded Elmo’s laughing behaviors to include rolling on the ground and pounding his fist on the ground.
14. In a well-executed marketing promotion, the manufacturer created excitement for the TMX by hiding TMX Elmo before its release. People who reviewed the product before it was released were required to sign confidentiality agreements that prevented them from revealing details about the doll ahead of time.
15. TMX Elmo’s marketing promotion included pre-release sales of the doll. Amazon took more pre-orders than it could fulfill.
16. The full look of the TMX doll was first revealed on ABC’s Good Morning America.
17. TMX Elmo’s box hid the doll until he bought it. A “preview flap” on the box only lets you see Elmo’s eyes, and he said, “Ah, ah, ah, ah! Don’t peek!”
18. A 2007 version of the doll featured hidden messages that Elmo would only say if you did the right thing to the doll. Rhyming clues on the manufacturer’s website helped consumers figure out how to trigger the special messages.
19. The 2008 version of the doll is called elmo live! It features a whole new set of actions and sounds, making it the most advanced version of the popular Elmo dolls. Sales of elmo live! it is expected to be vigorous for the 2008 holiday season. With the economic difficulties we are having this year it will be interesting to see how well Elmo lives! sells