Beanie Babies: What Made Them Sell?
Gina Meador

Account Manager

I recently watched this documentary about Beanie Babies. I found the whole thing very nostalgic. I did not fall subject to the craze myself, but I knew plenty of victims. What I found most interesting was that initially, there was zero marketing involved. The creator would simply go store-to-store trying to get these “mom and pop” shops to buy these little stuffed animals. What I also found interesting was that a small group of suburban housewives who were passionate collectors became notable influencers of this craze. This was the early 90s before the internet, so to be an “influencer” before it was even a thing is pretty fascinating. 

So why did these toys gain such popularity? It’s not clear how or why Beanie Babies took off, but it was mentioned that the whole craze may have started as a way for parents to find some common ground with their kids. In the documentary, one mother would spend her whole weekend with her daughter driving around looking for specific Beanie Babies to add to their collection. The “hunt” made it fun. 

Another factor that made the toys successful was that the company knew how to control supply and demand. As a sales tactic, the company would “retire” some animals altogether, which would cause a frenzy and thus drive up demand. They had laid the groundwork for a market of rare collectibles. The craze continued to grow with the invention of the internet. With platforms like eBay, consumers began buying and reselling the stuffed animals for thousands of dollars.   

Finally, maybe the social psychology aspect behind this craze is why the toys were so successful. We are emotional. We lead with feelings. I mean, they were cute stuffed animals. Each one had a name, date of birth, and a poem. We can be impulsive, and the “hunt” made it fun. Maybe it was the fear of missing out (FOMO) on something big, or maybe it was a “Keeping up with the Joneses” kind of thing. We all tend to want what another person has.  

The Beanie Babies craze, like many fad toy predecessors and those after, dropped off by the late 90s. I’m sure some folks out there have a few (or many more) stored somewhere in their basement. Maybe they will be worth something again one day, like the illusive commemorative Princess Diana Beanie Babies. I think some hold on to them because of the nostalgic factor; they forever played a role in a pop-culture craze. Whatever the case may be, I’m not entirely sure a company wants its product to become a “fad,” but the psychology behind the whole phenomenon is pretty remarkable.  

So can a company overcome being a “fad”?

Let’s take a step back. When talking about “fads,” the word “trend” comes up as well. It’s important to differentiate the two. Fads are a short-lived craze (e.g., Beanie Babies); they gain lots of attention and consumer demand and die off as quickly as they started. Trends emerge slowly but continue to evolve and have a more lasting impact on society. Essentially, fads are fleeting, and trends are enduring. 

When marketing a brand or product, it’s important to bring growth, and separating fads from trends is vital. A lot of money can be spent on a fad, only to watch the interest fade while ignoring longer-term trends that form new opportunities. Leading on a trend may prove difficult as a marketer since it is up to you to read the consumer and determine the next step in the process. Trends are stronger investments because they move along with changes in culture, politics, and society. This is exciting for companies to stay engaged and motivated, and it can be a great marketing tactic. You don’t want to be a part of every movement but rather at the forefront of a single trend specific to your brand. This may also help avoid fads because your business does not follow every new product. You’re centered on a movement related to your business/brand. 

Sure, you can build a business on a fad, and the makers of Beanie Babies sure did ride that wave as profits soared along with demand. This was not sustainable, and the novelty did wear off. However, a fad should not be looked at only as a money-maker but as an opportunity to establish an improved market position now and in the future. They may have capitalized on the exposure and moved from “fad” to “trend.” Everyone now knows Ty the brand. They have taken steps to introduce the consumer to new products and demonstrate the overall value of their brand. 

Although Beanie Babies have come and gone, the Ty brand has not. They continue to evolve with their product line (e.g., masks) and Youtube channel. A sign of the times. As the brand caters to a younger audience, I’m sure there are still some long-term customers, such as those Beanie Babies maniacs, as the company’s net worth is an estimated 2.3 billion dollars. Therefore, in my opinion, the company did overcome being a “fad,” but unfortunately, this may not ring true for others.