Threat to can Beanie Babies divides pros

OAKBROOK, IL: Announcing the discontinuation of its cherished Beanie Babies might have been the savviest PR move yet by toy giant Ty.

OAKBROOK, IL: Announcing the discontinuation of its cherished Beanie Babies might have been the savviest PR move yet by toy giant Ty.

OAKBROOK, IL: Announcing the discontinuation of its cherished

Beanie Babies might have been the savviest PR move yet by toy giant

Ty.



The company stirred up a PR firestorm on August 30 when it posted - and

then just as quickly withdrew - a 16-word message on its web site saying

Beanie Babies would be discontinued at the end of the year. While

calling the move unorthodox, PR pros said the announcement may turn out

to be the ideal tactic to revive the flagging Beanies line.



’If I were to cast my vote, it would be on the side of marketing

genius,’ said Kim Kumiega, EVP and deputy GM of Edelman’s reputation

management practice.



The message, which remained on the privately held firm’s web site for

less than 24 hours, has sparked increased demand for the plush toys by

as much as 300%, according to Bean Bag World editor Mary Beth

Sobolewski, whose publication tracks the Beanie phenomenon. ’It enabled

retailers to clear off shelves that were filled with overproduced

product,’ Sobolewski said.



Ty, which began selling Beanies in 1993, is the brainchild of

businessman Ty Warner, a low-profile individual who shuns the spotlight

and has used neither PR nor advertising to promote his brand. This,

however, is not to imply that he is anything less than very skilled at

playing the PR game. In early August, the company started dropping hints

about an upcoming ’major announcement,’ which drove up the buzz in the

Beanie community to deafening levels.



The toys began as cute, low-priced items for small children, but have

garnered a massive adult collector following. As the company grew its

number of Beanies to more than 100, Beanie web sites - often sporting

price lists and auctions - have proliferated. Annual sales estimates for

the company have ranged as high as dollars 674 million.



Some see the August announcement as a first step by Ty to refocus the

brand on its initial core audience: children. ’They were letting the

brand image of the product be controlled by others,’ said Ron Culp, VP

of PR and government affairs at Sears.



But unlike Edelman’s Kumiega, Culp isn’t sure if the recent announcement

will be a PR boon for the company: ’Either Ty Warner is one of the most

mysteriously creative people I have ever seen, or he has shot himself in

the foot.’



The Beanie community is said to view the announcement as a precursor to

the launch of some new line of Beanies, a theory with which Culp and

others agree.



’I think the issue is how well they handle it from here on out,’ said

Ellen Ryan Mardiks, Golin/Harris’ worldwide director of brand

strategies. ’I think the presumption is that something else just as

wonderful is coming around the corner.’



But Ty has shunned conventional communications strategies so far and

likely will continue to do so.



’We really don’t do any PR or marketing or anything like that,’ said Ty

spokesperson Anne Nickels, who would not comment on future plans for

announcements or PR. ’I think the thing we do best is drive marketing

and PR people crazy,’ she said.



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