Making demand out of nothing at all

Aaaaand, we’re back. Between a trip to Florida, visiting my family for Thanksgiving, and a nasty cold I’ve been fighting for about a week, my Musings have been limited. So while I passed on opportunities to blog about Who/What I’m Thankful For, Black Friday, World AIDS Day, and Tiger Woods, I’m jumping back into the icy blogging waters with a post on a very important topic.

Robotic Hamsters.

Like Furbies and Tickle Me Elmos of years past, robotic hamsters from Zhu Zhu Pets are, apparently, the hot holiday toy this season.The only conclusion I can draw from this is that nothing short of absolute marketing brilliance is behind Zhu Zhu Pets. ROBOTIC HAMSTERS, people! (It gets better. The name of the most popular model? Mr. Squiggles. You can’t make this stuff up).

I’ve written about fads before, and how a meteoric rise to popularity is usually followed by spectacular flame-out. But fads can tell us something about demand creation. Obviously (hopefully?) children weren’t wandering around saying, “You know what I really wish I had? What would make my life complete? A robotic hamster.” I doubt any focus groups would have revealed a latent need for Mr. Squiggles. So how did Zhu Zhu Pets do it?

For one, they started with exclusivity. Back in May, the company launched the toys only in the Phoenix market. They gave away free robotic hamsters at an Arizona Diamondbacks game. They selected local moms to host hamster-themed parties with games, activities, and opportunities for kids to built hamster habitats and play with the toys. They sent the toys to day care centers and hospitals in the Phoenix area. Phoenix-based mommy bloggers wrote about the toys and posted videos to YouTube. Somewhere in there the company changed the name from Go Go Pets to Zhu Zhu Pets. The word-of-mouth avalanche soon followed, laying the foundation for a national launch.zhu zhu pets robotic hamsters

And here we are, six months later, with a national hamster shortage on our hands.

Zhu Zhu Pets will likely not, if history is any indication, be able to sustain the holiday hype into long-term sales and growth (I would expect that the robotic hamster market is finite). But no doubt the company will make a good buck this year, so good on them.

I can only imagine what untapped demand will surface in 2010. Robotic field mice?

Update: A California-based consumer group is now claiming these furry automatons have unsafe levels of the chemical antimony (not to be confused with antipathy). Zhu Zhu Pets is denying the toys are unsafe. More from CNN.