Tickle Me Elmo
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Tickle Me Elmo is a children's plush toy from Tyco Preschool, a division of Tyco Toys, based on the character Elmo from the children's Muppet television show, Sesame Street. When squeezed, Elmo chortles and vibrates.
The toy was first introduced in the United States in 1996 and would quickly become a fad. The doll's short supply, due to the unexpected demand, led to a secondary market where scalpers would sell the plush toy for hundreds of US dollars. Some instances of violence were reported over the limited stock amidst heavy consumer demand. People reported that the toy, which retailed for US$28.99, had been advertised in newspapers and the Internet, asking up to $1500 by the year's end.
"Tickles The Chimp", the precursor to Tickle Me Elmo, was invented by Ron Dubren and Greg Hyman in 1992. In 1992, it was presented to Tyco Preschool as "Tickles The Chimp," which was a toy monkey with a computer chip which laughed when tickled. At the time Tyco didn't have rights to make Sesame Street plush, but did have Looney Tunes plush rights so it was worked on for several months as Tickle Me Tasmanian Devil. A short time later, Tyco lost rights to do Looney Tunes but gained the rights to Sesame Street, thus starting Tickle Me Elmo. The invention was originally introduced under Cabbage Patch at Hasbro Industries.
Neil Friedman, who was then president of Tyco Preschool, recalled years later that, "When you played with [Tickle Me Elmo] for the first time, it brought a smile to everyone's face. It was a magical surprise."
1996 Elmo craze
Tickle Me Elmo was released in July 1996, with a supply of 400,000 units. The dolls sold well, but remained widely available until the day after Thanksgiving, when they suddenly sold out. With the Christmas shopping season approaching, Tyco Preschool ordered 600,000 more dolls from their suppliers. Promotion was helped by Rosie O'Donnell, who had shown the toy on her popular TV show in early October. O'Donnell's "surprise plug" created unexpected demand for Elmo, resulting in shortages in the stores that sold it.
The scarcity of the new toy provoked a "shopping frenzy". Two women were arrested in Chicago for fighting over the doll, while in New York some people ran after delivery trucks hoping to get their hands on Elmo before it reached stores. Someone allegedly purchased a Tickle Me Elmo for $7,100 in Denver. A clerk working at a Wal-Mart store in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada was among those injured by "Elmo-mania". During a Midnight Madness sale on December 14, a crowd of 300 stampeded down the aisle after spotting him being handed a box of the toys by another employee. Trampled, he suffered "a pulled hamstring, injuries to his back, jaw and knee, a broken rib and a concussion".
Further Tickle Me toys
In early 1997, Tyco released new "Tickle Me" toys based on other characters from Sesame Street – first Tickle Me Ernie and Tickle Me Big Bird, then Tickle Me Cookie Monster – but despite good sales, none of these toys achieved as much fame as Tickle Me Elmo. With the re-release of Tickle Me Elmo, Mini Tickle Me Cookie Monster and Mini Tickle Me Ernie were also put on the market.
The "Surprise Edition" of Tickle Me Elmo, issued fall 2001, was an elaborate contest. Five of the "Surprise Edition" Elmos stopped laughing on January 9, 2002, and instead announced to the people squeezing them that they had won a prize. The grand prize was $200,000.
In 2006 for the tenth anniversary of Tickle Me Elmo, Fisher-Price released a new Elmo doll called TMX, meaning "Tickle Me (Elmo) Ten" or "Tickle Me eXtreme". The toy, which was designed by Bruce Lund of Lund and Co. Invention (River Forest, Illinois), was first announced at the American International Toy Fair. Rather than simply vibrating like the original, the TMX rolls around on the floor, laughing and smashing his fist on the ground, begging for the tickler to stop.
The full look of the doll was not revealed until it debuted live on ABC's Good Morning America and arrived on store shelves on September 19, 2006. Toy experts said that the delay was unprecedented, with only a few people in the media allowed to preview the product, and only after signing confidentiality agreements. The packaging was designed so that the doll could not be seen without purchasing it. The box includes a preview flap, but upon opening, only the doll's eyes are visible. It requires six AA batteries, and costs approximately $40. In a promotional clip, Jim Silver, co-publisher of Toy Wishes magazine said, "The first reaction I had was, 'Where are the wires?' Because I didn't think anything like that could move on its own.".
Toy analyst Chris Byrne told USA Today, "This is a quantum leap forward, another breakthrough in the preschool plush category." Byrne believed sales would be high, but the reaction would not be as unprecedented. "The culture has moved beyond that, the whole hot-toy phenomenon." He cited the fact there has not been such a craze since Furby in 1998. However, some members of the media expected a large response. Toys "R" Us stores and Amazon had a pre-sale program for the doll, the first included elaborate in-store displays with a digital countdown to the doll's launch. Amazon took more presale orders than it could fulfill. As with the original Tickle Me Elmo doll, demand for the new toy gave rise to some extreme acts. One person in Tampa, Florida was allegedly threatened with a gun to hand over a TMX toy. This was parodied on Saturday Night Live, which said the man "was subdued by the new 'Gimmie a Reason Bert'".
TMX and other toys helped Mattel's earnings for the third quarter of the 2006 financial year to grow by six percent and beat the expectations of financial analysts. TMX also helped increase sales of other Elmo toys.
eXtra Special Edition
Playskool released the toy again as LOL Elmo. Not a single image of the toy was revealed until the American International Toy Fair 2012; in the Hasbro showroom's Sesame Street section, there is a sign printed "Laughter Unleashed! Fall 2012". Above it was a video of kids giggling. The toy was released in September. It is also known as Tickle Time Elmo.
In popular culture
In a Christmas 2006 episode of MADtv, a fictional spin-off of the Tickle Me Elmo was called "Tickle Me Emo", which has Emo saying different emo sayings, cries & whines, and saying "I hate you!" three times. MADtv also featured a Sesame Street parody, where Elmo is portrayed as a terrorist now renamed himself to "Elmo TMX". In the Futurama movie Into the Wild Green Yonder there is a toy called "Tickle Me Bender" which is a toy version of Bender. In the video game Sam & Max: Ice Station Santa, there's a parody of Tickle Me Elmo called "Torture Me Elmer." A song by Circus Of Dead Squirrels is named "Elmo's Last Laugh." In the South Park episode Black Friday, a commercial is seen for a parody of Tickle Me Elmo called "Stop Touching Me Elmo" which makes fun of Elmo's actor Kevin Clash's child sex abuse case. Jhonen Vasquez parodied Tickle Me Elmo as "Tickle Me Hellmo" in his comic book series Squee!
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- Reidy, Chris; Patricia Resende (13 November 1997). "Tyco's Sing & Snore Ernie Looks Like It's The Hot Toy This Christmas". Knight Ridder Tribune Business Review. – via HighBeam (subscription required); originally from the Boston Globe. "Elmo got his big break in early October of last year with an on-air plug from talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell."
- Fisher, Eric (16 November 1998). "Tickle-Down Economics". Insight on the News. – via Questia (subscription required).
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- Constable, Burt (11 December 1997). "The Aftermath of a Craze: Tickle Me Elmo Revisited". Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL). – via HighBeam (subscription required). "The company sold its entire supply of 1 million TMEs last year".
- Szaroleta, Tom (16 September 2011). "Tickle Me T-U, Tell Me More about Elmo". The Florida Times Union. – via Questia (subscription required). ": Tickle Me Elmo becomes the hottest toy of the holiday season. More than a million are sold that year alone."
- Dean, Katie (11 October 2001). "Elmo's Worth More Than a Tickle". Wired.
- Jedlowski, Jill (17 January 2007). "Toy Story: TMX Elmo Creator Talks Business". Daily Herald (Arlington Heights). – via HighBeam (subscription required).
- "Tickle Me Elmo X TMX Elmo" (on Youtube).
- Barker, Olivia (1 February 2006). "Meet 'Top Secret Elmo'". USA Today.
- Kotecki Vest, Erin (22 September 2006). "Elmo Suckers Me to the Dark Side". The Huffington Post.
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- "Mattel Posts 6 Percent Rise in Profit". AP Online. – via HighBeam (subscription required). 16 October 2006.
- "Mattel Tops Expectations". Cincinnati Post. – via HighBeam (subscription required). 17 October 2006.
- Kavilanz, Parija B. (29 January 2007). "Following T.M.X. Elmo, here come his friends". CNNMoney.com.
- Fisher Price T.M.X. Special Edition