Unless they’ve been living at the bottom of Oscar’s trash can, frazzled last-minute Christmas shoppers know that Sing & Snore Ernie is the gotta-have-it, can’t-find-it toy this holiday season. But how exactly did Ernie, Tyco’s pajama-clad successor to last year’s million-selling Tickle Me Elmo, become today’s toy titan?
It all began at Tyco headquarters in October ’96, when retailers were offered a sneak preview of the drowsy, snorfling Muppet who warbles a sleepy tune. To build on the initial interest, Tyco heavily hyped Ernie at February’s Toy Fair in New York City, the industry?s annual products convention for the press and toy merchants. “We set up a whole separate area for Ernie,” explains Ellie Baglie of Freeman Public Relations, Tyco’s PR firm. “You went through the toys, then boom — there he was. That laid the seeds in the mind of the media [that Ernie was our special toy].”
Then in June, the company invited 500 reporters and kids to play with Ernie at Langhorne, Pennsylvania’s Sesame Place Amusement Park — just as they did for Elmo a year earlier. But the coup de grace was when Ernie won the Toy of the Year award from the trade magazine “Family Fun” during a televised announcement on Oct. 22 outside Manhattan’s famed FAO Schwarz. Newspaper stories and TV spots followed, and the rest is holiday buzz history.
“I think people learned from [the Elmo shortage] last year, and began shopping ahead,” says FAO Schwarz spokeswoman Kelly Disque. So far ahead, in fact, that stores started selling out in early November, thus perpetuating the get-there-early-or-miss-out mania that gave Elmo his elusive tickle. Tyco, meanwhile, had to air-freight Ernie shipments to stores three weeks before Thanksgiving, way ahead of schedule. “We never expected shelves to be clean of Ernie in November,” says Tyco president Neil Friedman.
Those shelves are still bare today, as major toy retailers watch shipments sell out as quickly as they did last month. In other words, parents are going to need a Christmas miracle to avoid having their own scream-and-kick moppet next week.