Monday, January 4, 2010

Beanie Babies

If you are ever in doubt of just how pliable and easily manipulated the general public can be, simply consider the unwarranted astronomical rise of the Beanie Baby. Throughout the Beanie-crazed 90s, our frenzied consumerism teetered at the brink of insanity as we abandoned all sense of decency and proportion. We gave up our notion of actual value of goods and commodities in favor of being swept up in the fervor of amassing inordinate quantities of pellet-stuffed plush toys. The highest offenders among us willingly and knowingly shelled out thousands of valuable units of currency to obtain these cuddly little critters all in the name of riding the Beanie Baby bandwagon to brewing bankruptcy. Just to recap our scoreboard here, that's Mob Mentality 1, General Sensibility 0.

It's difficult to ascertain the exact moment that a phenomenon morphs into a craze. There's no real predictive mechanism for explaining why some toys become icons of a generation and others simply fade into obscurity, though smart marketing can certainly play a role. Such was the case of TY Beanie Babies, a well thought-out product launch in which the producing company intentionally created a sense of limited stock and imminent discontinuation of coveted items.

TY, Inc chose not to unleash their bean-filled babies to large retail distributors. Instead, they selected more upscale, lesser known toy stores to carry their allegedly elusive product. This air of exclusivity bred stirrings of increased perceived value and specialness, despite the fact that these babies were available to the general spending population at just $4.99 a pop. Feeling used and abused yet by the field of consumer psychology? If you're not quite there, don't worry, there's still some time to catch up.


In an age where we pretty much did whatever the Word from our Sponsors dictated, it seems like a step backward to implement a word-of-mouth campaign, especially for something with no other real use or value outside of its cuteness. TY strayed away from traditional commercial advertising strategies, hoping to add to its elusive air of mystery and secrecy. In ninety nine cases out of a hundred this plan would almost certainly backfire as none of us would have an inkling the product even existed, let alone the capacity of envy to care that we might be missing out on this alleged collecting opportunity.

From this point on, TY pretty much had us in the bag. It was like a primitive form of viral marketing dependent solely on our lust to like things that others don't know about. I dare any of you to deny that there has been a time in your life where a friend said, "Hey, check out this new band, isn't it awesome?" and you turned your nose up in much-anticipated aloof glee and told them, "Oh, I've known about them for years. I've been listening them since way before they were famous." It's in our basic human nature, and TY caught us in the act. They somehow managed to convince us that owning one of these $5 pellet-stuffed plushies gave us some sort of coolness capital.

In case you were wondering, this entire collection is currently for sale for a mere $200 by an Oklahoma seller. I'd stay strike while the iron is hot on these ones. She claims some are "very valuable". That's why they're only $200 total. What a steal!


Vast segments of society bought into this marketing strategy wholeheartedly. TY threw in some other nice touches to further tug at our ever-gullible heartstrings, including a signature tag on each beanie indicating this particular model's unique name, birthday, and accompanying aww-inducing poem. Despite the fact that our Squealer the Pig was just one among dozens in the beanie bin we plucked him from, TY had us convinced that he was somehow ours in a unique one-of-a-kind way not possible in this age of mass-produced toys. Well played, TY.

To further add fuel to the frenzied fire, TY opted to premiere and retire new favorites at a whim, prompting us all the more quickly to consume these toys on the assumption that their availability was extremely limited. This was mostly untrue, of course, though it certainly eased the transition from poseable prop to coveted collector's item. While the product's major consuming demographic had originated as allowance-toting youngsters, middle-aged hobbyists soon saw some appeal in the collection of these limited-availability stuffed animals. Adults took to the internet in droves, operating frantic chat rooms and forums on the possibility of this or that Beanie Baby facing retirement or possessing some rare attribute. Over a very short period of time, the amassing of Beanie Babies segued from toy ownership to investment opportunity.

Because there was no means of knowing whether a certain Beanie would be retired, reinstated, or available in only limited quantities, collectors quickly began cataloging the trajectories of their favorites and charting out their chances for financial success. I personally made a brief foray into Beanie collectorship upon the realization that I had indeed purchased a limited edition original wingless Quackers the duck on a field trip in fourth grade. Almost immediately after coming to this exciting and undoubtedly profitable conclusion, I dug up my old pal Quackers from a pile of forgotten stuffies only to find the unthinkable: it was leaking beans. Well, leaking plastic pellets, at least. I could have been an elementary school thousandaire, but TY's original shoddy workmanship (or perhaps my inability to play gentle) had thwarted this lucrative opportunity. In case you were wondering, I'm still fairly bitter over the whole incident.

Thanks for nothing, Quackers


While the narrow of window of opportunity was still open on the craze, companies and individuals fought for their own corner of this fad market. McDonald's introduced a "Teenie Beanie" Happy Meal toy tie-in, releasing miniature versions of the popular collectibles. On the far more extreme side, some individuals got involved in black market knockoff Beanie Baby rings, including a couple from my hometown who were fined a whopping $150,000 for their Beanie impropriety and a hefty $11,000+ to each of their victims. Now, of course, I'm just kicking myself for not have seeking out my neighbors as Beanie Baby suppliers. Screw the profits I could have gained from Quackers; that settlement would have been far sweeter.

My own childhood greediness aside, it also seems TY was not above capitalizing on tragedy and circumstance to turn a tidy profit. The company released a limited edition Princess Diana bear almost immediately following her tragic death in 1997, offering an extremely limited quantity to ensure they turned the highest profit from her untimely demise. TY also had a tie-dyed Garcia bear in circulation, undoubtedly styled after the late Grateful Dead guitarist. Garcia's family sued and TY acquiesced, but you've got to admire their gumption. We're talking about the same company that tried to pawn off some allegedly non-Obama daughter related "Sweet Sasha" and "Marvelous Malia" dolls this past year. These stuffed animal people can be ruthless.


Like all good fads, Beanie Babies could only hold our attention so long before a new trend came along and erased all memories of our bepelleted pals. Many of us who had treated the rise of Beanie Baby collectibles as a legitimate investment opportunity were distressed to find that nearly overnight, the astronomically inflated value of our little bears had plummeted. The trend began to fade almost as quickly as it had peaked. Scores of us were left with tens or even hundreds of these value-deficient toys, now likely relegated to basement storage room garbage bags or garage sale dime bins.

We all want to declare ourselves impervious to trends, but sometimes our bandwagon-hopping mentality gets the better of us. For those among us who got out in time and unloaded their Beanies to naive collectors willing to pay top dollar for their collections, congratulations. You've outsmarted the system and most likely, the rest of society. Hopefully we can take it as a learning experience and not be so impulsive the next time. If you'll excuse me now, I need to go check on those limited edition Pokemon cards I've been watching on eBay. I'm pretty sure their ship is on its way in.

13 comments:

Melanie's Randomness said...

I'm still addicted to these lil guys. I remember at one time I had one of the bears & it was worth about a grand cuz it was some first edition. I still have it but it's probably worth about 5 bucks. I still can't believe how insane people were about these things. It was incredible!!

P said...

I never got the beanie baby thing back then and i still don't now. They're not even all that CUTE!

Shannon SVH said...

I worked at McDonald's when the Beanie Baby thing was happening. It was HORRIBLE. All day long, people coming in and screaming, "Which Beanie Baby do you have today?" Extremely unpleasant.

Christy said...

I was *shamefully* part of the crazy when I was in umm 4-6th grade maybe??? I have about 90 of them in my parent's house.

beeyum said...

They're so cute! my mother collects them :)

thegamerswife said...

I must admit that I was a huge fan during the height of the craze...must have had over a hundred, easily! Most are still stored away at my parents house! :)

Beth said...

I remember reading about stores that had a limit on how many Beanie Babies you could buy, and adults putting on disguises (jacket, sunglasses, hat, fake mustache) so that they could go back into a store and get more.

Jen said...

I was OBSESSED with Beanie Babies! I'm (only slightly) ashamed to admit I went to a Beanie Baby convention and begged my mother to buy Manny the Manatee for £80! £80!!!! It was madness. I have around 50 at my mum's house with a net worth of around £50 (probably). Good times.

Heather said...

My grandparents really got into this. I had a few myself like the Princess Diana bear, but I couldnt tell you where they are....

Lauri said...

I have Siberians. So when McDonalds came out with one, I really wanted one. A month later, I was visiting a cousin's house and she had one. I was jealous and her Mom gave me one of the 10 she had. Their McDonald's had organized an event with the husky since the local school mascot was the husky and all the parents thought they would be great graduation gifts to give their kid's friends, except everyone had the same idea. Not so great for them, but fortunate for me.

Molly said...

I love these little dudes. I think they're adorable!

Even a leaking wingless Quackers would probably get you some cash. But how could you part with that cute little dude??

Julie said...

An elementary school thousandaire, hee!

I was never really into the beanie baby craze (not the way I was into trolls), but some of them were pretty cute.

OceanDreams said...

I had so many of these, it was crazy and I was so crazy into them!!

Digg This!