Unsurprisingly, along with a ton of Pogs and a ton of Pokemon cards, I also had a ton of Ty Beanie Babies.
Ty Beanie Babies were exactly what they sounded like—little stuffed animals filled with plastic pellets at their center to give them a sort of floppy appearance. They weren’t particularly cuddly, really, and they didn’t do anything. They were your standard little stuffed animals—albeit stuffed animals that came with a name, birthday, and little poem that gave them a more personalized feel. And yet Ty Beanie Babies became a HUGE phenomenon.
Ty Inc. decided to capitalize on the market share of ‘children who think baby animals are cute,’ which yeah, most little kids like puppies and kitties and rabbits. Ty Inc. also went the crazier route with animals like the platypus, the moose, and a magical dragon, to only name a few.
So why were Ty Beanie Babies so popular when really, they were just like any other stuffed animal? Well, like many other collectable items, there were ‘common’ Beanie Babies and there were ‘rare’ ones, so there was an excitement in trying to find and collect the rare and limited edition Beanie Babies. In addition to the limited edition Beanie Babies, there were 'special occassion' Beanie Babies that made good gifts--a birthday Beanie Baby, a graduation Beanie Baby, a bride and groom Beanie Baby, a Beanie Baby dedicated to each month of the year. They were relatively inexpensive, as long as you were purchasing them in the store (versus trying to get a rarer one from an auction, for example).
Beanie Babies had a bit of an ‘elite’ factor to them—you wouldn’t find them at Toy’s R Us, more like Hallmark. This helped to establish them as more of a collector’s item than a toy, which meant that kids believed the idea that they should collect as many as they could. Beanie Babies were frequently retired, and so even older kids would be interested in collecting them, in the hopes that their Beanie Baby would be retired and the value would skyrocket. There was a big fuss about keeping your Beanie Baby ‘mint’, by leaving both tags on and in perfect condition in order to maximize its monetary value. So, often the purchased Beanie Babies weren’t even played with, and rather just stuck on a shelf for safe-keeping.
And, lastly, they were popular because for the most part, they were really cute.
There were, of course, some exceptions.
Not exactly cuddly. (But note the plastic tag protector!)
Fun fact! Did you know that people were actually arrested and served jail time for creating counterfeit Beanie Babies? There was a whole business for cheap knock-offs, especially focused on the more rare editions (such as the Princess the bear, based on Princess Diana and released after her death), since, as I said before, the more common Beanie Babies weren’t that expensive to begin with. There were Beanie Baby SMUGGLING RINGS, guys. Kind of crazy to think of—rip-offs of other popular fads, such as Pokemon cards, tended to be more localized and police-free.
The idea of Beanie Babies is still around today, although the Ty brand is not the market leader it once was. No, that now belongs to a toy called Webkinz. I mentioned Webkinz briefly in my introduction post—each one comes with a code, and you enter that code to play in their online world. Ty Inc. has tried to capitalize on this idea as well, with the introduction of Beanie Babies 2.0, which is basically exactly like Webkinz. Another way they’ve tried to remarket their brand is by creating Ty Beanie Babies of popular cartoon characters from shows such as Spongebob Squarepants and Dora the Explorer. However, by the time they came out with Beanie Babies 2.0, the children of the 90s had grown up and moved on, and the Beanie Baby fad was officially over.
But what a fad it was.
So how do Beanie Babies stand up against the test of time? Well, it’s kind of a two part question. The Beanie Babies themselves were so-so—average run-of-the-mill stuffed animals. They were cute and cheap, but there was no need to have a huge collection of them. I liked mine, and I was one of the kids who actually played with mine. At the same time, Ty totally sold me on the idea that some day, my Beanie Babies would be worth a lot of money. The marketing strategies employed by Ty Inc. were excellent, and helped lead to the rampant success of the brand. So looking back, while Beanie Babies themselves were average toys, the way Ty Inc. sold them to the world is still impressive.
Or maybe, again, they were just popular because they were really cute.
Next, I’m going to take a detour and look at some of the Stuff On Our TV. For this edition of Stuff On Our TV, I’ll be looking one of the game shows that was the epitome of cool, the ultimate kid adventure: Legends of the Hidden Temple.