The year was 1998 and Christmas was rapidly approaching. Parents were busily preparing a holiday wonderland for their anxious offspring. Malls were swelling with sale-hunting warriors armed with credit cards and the desire to bring their young the most impressive, cutting edge toys available. Tiger Electronics had just released what would become the year’s hottest toy and this whimsical, innovative, and “kind of cute in a creepy way” phenomenon was about to invade the homes of children all across the globe. This otherworldly specimen was christened: the Furby.
I wanted nothing to do with Furbys. My deep-seated fear of Gremlins prevented me from welcoming their obvious relation, the Furby, into my home. Nonetheless, all of my friends wanted Furbys. In fact, everyone I knew under the age of 13 wanted one. Whether I liked it or not, we were on the eve of an infestation of Gremlin-like proportions and it didn’t matter how dry we kept them or how adamantly we avoided feeding them a midnight snack.
Is the Furby craze really worth a nod from Product Magic? This toy was enough to make people from across the country line up before sunrise in the cold of winter and elbow their way through crowds of desperate individuals just to get their hands on one. Although the success of the Furby may have seemed like a fluke, there were strategic factors in place that contributed to the toy’s popularity.
Creepy, or not, the Furby was visionary. We’d seen furry, talking-robot toys before (see Teddy Ruxpin). Digital Pets like Giga Pet & Tomagatchi were old news. Although the Furby was a hybrid of these popular toys (it was advertised as the “Giga Pet you can pet!”) it also brought to the table some new, groundbreaking features.
A brand new Furby only spoke “Furbish” but with love and training, a Furby could learn new English words. You could “feed” your Furby by touching a sensor in its beak, and if you weren’t careful your Furby could catch a cold. It was equipped with multiple sensors for touch, sound, and light, as well as a sensor that could detect the presence of its Furby brethren. These features allowed Furby to interact with its environment, humans, and other Furbys. This intelligent toy was the closest thing to a real live pet available on the market, making it an irresistible item for the most progressive toy-buyers.
A significant portion of the Furby’s success could be attributed to the combination of press and advertising through outlets like Wired, Time, the Today Show, and the New York Times. Tiger’s Furby messaging reached parents before they reached kids. Parents were primed to like Furbys before the commercials began to air to their children. By the time kids had been reeled in with Furby advertisements, their parents were well aware that this was predicted to be the “season’s hottest toy”. That prediction seemed to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Furbys were hard to get your hands on. The toy sold out faster than retailers could keep it in stock. The regular market price for a Furby was about $30.00 but there were reports of Furbys being on the Internet for $300.00. Purchasing a Furby for your child demonstrated to other parents that you were resourceful with disposable income to spare. That year, there was a certain amount of status attached to owning a Fubry; it was more than a toy, it was an asset, a physical symbol of superior parenting.
The Furby was innovative, talked-about, fought over and desired. It sold millions of units and made a name that won’t soon be forgotten. This “kind of cute in a creepy way” little toy caused a massive stir in the world of American consumerism. The combination of innovative features, media coverage and over-zealous parents made Furbys a huge sensation. Now, how to you say “Product Magic” in Furbish?
Main Photo by karine*imagine.