Are we in for another Furby frenzy?

More than 40 million Furbies have been sold worldwide since the toy became a phenomenon in the late ?90s, and now Hasbro?s furry friend is returning. Dominic Sacco asks if it can make the same impact this year.
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Furby became an instant phenomenon when it hit shelves in 1998.

The loveable little creatures drew parents and children in their millions to retailers, thanks to their lifelike movements, furry exteriors and ability to speak in Furbish. And now they’re coming back.

By allowing kids to teach Furbies to speak English, and interact with them in other ways, creator Tiger Electronics formed a strong bond between consumer and toy in the ‘90s. This emotional connection and innovation helped spark a craze, which eventually saw over 40 million Furbies shifted worldwide.

Hasbro brought out an updated Furby in 2005 in ‘Emo-tronic’ form, but arguably the big revival is happening later this year. By launching a smart toy in 2012, Hasbro has a greater advantage at a big Furby revival. During the past seven years we’ve seen the Apple iPad, Nintendo Wii and countless smartphones arrive, all bringing with them incredible technology to the marketplace. Technology that could really make the new Furby a fantastic product, and one that stands out from the tablets and pocket money products currently dominating the toy market.

Toy industry expert, Vici Entertainment brand consultant and former Hasbro man, Steeve Reece, tells ToyNews: “We could analyse the component parts of Furby's success, but for me I take the consumer view. The original Furby was a little bit of magic – the formula was just right for the time.

“Relaunches of once huge brands tend to be successful as the trade believes based on past performance, and new generations of toy purchasers remember the play experiences from their own childhoods. So I believe Hasbro can enjoy success again this time round.”

ToyNews was lucky enough to see the upcoming Furby in action at the Toymaster show earlier this year, but we are bound by the powers that be from mentioning its functionality. However, you can be sure that Hasbro will give the Furby a whole host of features – and a strong marketing campaign to boot.

“Being a Hasbro launch, we can take it for granted that a strong and convincing marketing campaign will be in place,” adds Reece. “I'd expect Furby to be a top seller in terms of sell through.”

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see several Furby spin-offs emerge next year if the 2012 model is a big hit. The Entertainer’s buying director Stuart Grant thinks Hasbro probably already has some follow-ups lined up (see ‘What do the retailers think?’).

But while Hasbro is being Hasbro and keeping quiet for now, CEO Brian Goldner said the company is “excited” about the return of Furby during its Q1 earnings call.

“We are not yet sharing specific details of the new Furby, but we are pleased with the reception Furby has received thus far by our retail partners, and we look forward to unveiling Furby to consumers,” he said.

It’s not certain whether the Furby 2012 will have the same impact it did 14 years ago, but no one can accuse Hasbro of not returning with a quality, innovative and fun high-end toy that does the Furby brand justice.

And retail certainly believes that with the right focus, technology and price point, the sales will follow.

What do the retailers think?

“When the original Furby was launched in the late ‘90s, it was quite unlike anything the toy market had ever seen before. We are hopeful the new Furby will have some exciting features. We expect demand to be incredibly strong and we believe the new Furby is going to be one of the big successes of 2012 and beyond.”
Andrea Abbis, trading manager for toys and nursery, Argos

“The product looks fantastic – Hasbro has brought in technology to make Furby more relevant for kids today. I think Hasbro will put every single last penny behind it to make it a success. And the original Furby was phenomenal. But the question is, will the new one be around in year two, not just this Christmas? Another concern is the price. Are people willing to spend money on a toy, when for a little more they could get an iPod? I think it's going to be successful, but whether it hits the dizzy heights of its earlier years is another matter. However, it will still be a phenomenally successful toy – certainly a Top Five product. And Hasbro will probably have a Furby v2 or v3 already in the pipeline.”
Stuart Grant, buying director, The Entertainer

“I am looking forward to the release of Furby and hope it will live up to the hype. It’s the kind of product that will either be the must-have or will fail to hit the volume business. Personally I think it will be successful. Hopefully the Hasbro marketing package and nostalgic value will pull it through. In an ideal world it would be great to have Furby demo units in-store.”
Gary Diamond, director, Toyology

“I feel Hasbro can use its expertise to bring Furby ‘up-to-date’ and I have every confidence they can make the new and improved Furby the hit of the year.
Hasbro needs to ensure it creates the same, if not more, buzz around the relaunch of Furby as it did in 1998, particularly paying attention to the new technology, whilst not forgetting to focus on the retro elements.”
Laura Metcalfe, Buying Manager, Tesco

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