Facebook App Ushers in New Elmo Toy

Even Elmo’s gotten leaner in the recession.

Fisher-Price has started the advertising buildup for its Elmo Tickle Hands, a lower-priced extension of its Tickle Me Elmo franchise with a Facebook gifting device (aka “Ticklegram”) aimed at moms.

Tickle Hands is a pair of furry gloves that emit the sounds of Elmo’s laughter when they touch surfaces or objects. The product will retail for $29.99 versus $59.99 for the original Tickle Me Elmo doll. Vince Smart, marketing director for Fisher-Price, said the lower price point wasn’t a direct result of the recession, but rather the by-product of a perceived ceiling on the doll’s upward development. “We had taken the innovation about as far as we could go,” he said.

Fisher-Price released the Facebook app this week. Those who receive the Ticklegram get a 10-second video of a picture of the product and Elmo’s laughing voice saying various phrases including “Elmo knows you can tickle better than that,” and “Let’s tickle somebody.” Another viral component will include letting consumers upload videos of their kids playing with the product. Fisher-Price will run some of those videos on a dedicated Web site.

The effort also includes TV, a buy mostly on cable that shows children playing with the toy. Draftfcb handled that effort and worked with AdNectar on the Facebook app. Wendy Glass, svp/group managing director at Draftfcb, said the agency is working with “one of the major morning shows” to announce the toy’s release on Aug. 4. That release date isn’t especially early for an Elmo release. “It is early compared to other products, but we think there will be such demand for it,” Glass said. Fisher-Price’s ad spend has been relatively modest. The company spent $2 million promoting Elmo products in 2008, per the Nielsen Co. Smart said this year’s spend will be in line with last year’s.

Fisher-Price initially released Tickle Me Elmo in 1996 and the product became a must-have hit that year after Rosie O’Donnell talked the product up on her morning show. Thirteen years later, the Facebook app is not only the first for an Elmo product, but the first for Fisher-Price, Glass said.

The push comes as Fisher-Price’s parent company, Mattel, has been hit especially hard by the recession and has responded with cost-cutting measures. In its most recent quarter, Mattel’s revenues fell 19 percent, though earnings rose 82 percent compared to the year-ago period. Fisher-Price’s gross sales fell 13 percent that quarter. In an April call with analysts, Mattel chairman and CEO Bob Eckert didn’t seem especially bullish on Elmo Tickle Hand’s prospects, noting instead that Mattel’s Mindflex game seemed to get the most buzz at Toy Fair. He described the Elmo toy as “sort of a lower priced way to play with Elmo.”