Tickle Me Doubtful

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Mattel’s TMX Elmo (Tickle Me Extreme) is a hot, hot item among adults who have snapped them up by the armfuls since they went on sale Sept. 19. These savvy resellers are getting around $100 on eBay for the $40 toys. They’re hoping that as the holidays approach and the TMX Elmo buzz becomes a roar, the supply will stay tight. (The clerk at the Bel Air Toys R Us told me they sold out of TMX Elmo in minutes with shoppers taking five and six at a time. They’re not taking pre-orders and they haven’t been told when they might be getting any more). These resellers lucky enough to have grabbed some of the giggling red fuzz are hoping children will be begging to see this toy falling-to-the-floor-and-then-righting-its-hysterical-self again under their Christmas tree. If the kids do get hooked, then the resellers profit margins will mount to the sky. It’s all certainly possible that Mattel’s clever marketers can pull this off. But, my early observations of the Elmo-loving set here in my Bel Air neighborhood have me skeptical. I talk to a lot of kids everyday — not a scientific sample, but a good range of ages. And I’m just not hearing a lot about TMX Elmo from them. My 4-year-old daughter was right on top of Barbie’s 12 Dancing Princesses marketing matrix (One of the princess dolls wears a skirt that lights up and spins). Every day she’d fill me on in the DVD that was “coming soon.” She hasn’t shown that kind of enthusiasm for TMX Elmo. I played a YouTube video of TMX Elmo in all his falling down glory for my daughter and the 5-year-old neighbor. They laughed. They made me play it again. Then they ran off to play and I didn’t hear another word about Elmo. My 3-year-old goddaughter, who is a huge Elmo fan — and even shares her name with one of his fuzzy friends — isn’t asking for TMX Elmo either. I think the difference between the I-gotta-have-it toy craze inspired by the first Tickle Me Elmo a decade ago and this one is the sheer abundance of toys digitally equipped to perform playroom circus acts. The kids expect their toys to dance and sing and speak different languages. My daughter did have to have the singing and spinning Pablo penguin toy, from the Backyardigans TV show — even though it’s geared for children much younger than she is. And she needed the Rescue Pets puppy that barks when you come near. She’s longing for the rather creepy Fairy Wishes Dora doll that speaks and blinks her eyes in a manner eerily reminscient of Bride of Chucky. When I walk through my basement playroom a bevy of toys with infrared technology start barking, yapping and beeping at me. So, I’m thinking all the secrecy and scarcity surrounding TMX Elmo could backfire. If a limited supply is trickling out of Mattel and resellers are hoarding them waiting for their prices to surge, when are kids going to get to see their friends playing with them and begin insisting Christmas won’t be Christmas without one? Unless Mattel has a huge TV advertising blitz coming (and I suppose that is quite likely) kids aren’t going to be whining for this doll. And if kids aren’t whining, parents’ willingness to pay big bucks to maintain peace on their earth will fade.