Furby fever - media hype or the real deal?

With the holiday shopping season officially in high gear, panicked parents are facing the daunting task of finding the right gifts for their choosy children. In addition to reading their kids' letters to Santa, parents often look to the media for further guidance.

With the holiday shopping season officially in high gear, panicked parents are facing the daunting task of finding the right gifts for their choosy children. In addition to reading their kids' letters to Santa, parents often look to the media for further guidance.

In the days and weeks before Thanksgiving, newspapers were rife with stories about hot toys for Christmas. One new toy stood head and paws above the competition-Furby, an interactive virtual pet that responds to sound, light and touch. More than 80 percent of the articles researched mentioned Furby and there were many articles entirely dedicated to the Furby phenomenon. No other toy garnered similar feature coverage.

What is most interesting about the attention given to Furby is the fact that it was not based on sales, but rather on pre-sale marketing and PR.

The newspaper articles mentioned that Furby had captured headlines in USA Today, Newsweek and Wired magazine before the toy appeared in stores.

Furby's appearance on the Today show was also cited as a contributing factor to the toy's popularity.

All of this attention has led to long lines at stores, waiting lists, Internet Furby auctions and, in turn, even greater demand. As stated in the Tennessean (November 8), 'the media covers people lining up at toy stores, which prompts more people to line up, which prompts more coverage.'

Given the apparent influence of the media on holiday purchases for children, it is interesting to examine what other toys are being touted as 'hot' this season.

The four most frequently discussed toys in our survey of coverage - Furby, Talking Teletubbies, Sing Along Blue (from the Blue's Clues TV show) and Bounce Around Tigger - are all electronic dolls/pets. Each one either talks or sings when a specific body part is touched.

Despite the current focus on electronic, interactive toys, some traditional toys are expected to hold their own. Leading this pack is Barbie, who is surfacing in such ensembles as NASCAR Barbie and WNBA Barbie. And making a comeback is the yo-yo, which was mentioned more frequently than both Power Rangers and Barney.

With a plethora of gifts to choose from, parents should be able to overcome pressure in the shopping malls. At least one paper is trying to douse the flames of Furby fever.

The San Antonio Express-News (November 16) opined: 'So have some pride.

Be bigger than this. Furby is only a fever that will pass. Look in the corner of your child's room. That's not a dirty red sweater. It's Elmo All tickled out and forgotten. The same fate awaits Furby.'

Just tell the kids to send their complaints directly to the North Pole.

Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be found at www.carma.com.

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