From Beanie Babies c.1990s to Hello Kitty and Minions 2013 – a lesson in Economics

Back in the 1990s, half a lifetime ago, I used to work in the City of London.  This was the time when Ty Beanie Babies were all the rage.  First, you could get them as part of your McDonald’s Happy Meal, where they would bring out one mini plush toy a week, which would be snapped up and sold out before the end of the week.  Mind you, these were the miniature versions of the Beanie Babies.  This was how I learned to use the word “Tush Tag”; the tush tags of the minis bore the McDonald’s logo.

The Beanie Babies themselves came in 2 sizes, small as in 7 inches or so, in a matte fabric, and a larger version in a plush material.  At this time, I was heavily involved in making and selling artist Teddy Bears (the correct term for a teddy bear collector or fan is “arctophile”), so you could say I came to the world of Beanie Babies by way of their Teddy Bear figures. In actual fact, Beanie Babies came in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from aardvarks to zebus.  OK, I may have made the part up about zebus (does anyone even know what a zebu is these days?), but you get my drift.

Ty Warner, the owner of Ty Inc., prided himself on not having to rely on marketing and advertising his products.  They literally sold themselves, by word of mouth.  Stores around the world, when they realised the demand for the toys, made up all sorts of marketing ploys to generate more and more sales.  One week, you could buy a limited edition Beanie Baby; the next, you could only buy that if you first of all bought 3 other Beanie Babies.  How clever is that!  Some stores even had “Lucky Draws” where buyers of other Beanie Babies could put their names in a box, and one lucky winner walked away with the coveted Limited Edition toy.  It wasn’t unknown for fights to break out amongst women shoppers desperate to get their hands on that elusive toy for their kids (or for themselves, for that matter).  Some University students were reported to have written their final theses in Sales & Marketing about the company Ty Inc.

When Ty announced that they were retiring the Beanie Babies range, it proved what economists had been banging on about…when supplies go down, demand goes up exponentially.  Sales of all Ty products shot through the roof, the company made gazillions.  The actual “retirement” of the range wasn’t felt much, however, as there were still loads of the company’s plush toys on the market.  Still, lots of buyers started snapping up all types of Ty toys, believing them to be the ones due to be retired.

Fast forward 20 years, and to Singapore.  McDonald’s introduced the popular Japanese figure “Hello Kitty” to its Happy Meals.  Normally staid and conservative Singaporeans went mad, queuing up round the block to buy Happy Meals just so they could get their hands on a Hello Kitty.  When the McDonald’s stores ran out of Hello Kitty figures, arguments and fights broke out.  There are several YouTube videos showing irate Singaporean adults arguing with McDonalds staff when told the Hello Kitty figures had sold out.  Singaporeans even went to the extent of doing McDonald’s crawls (sort of like a Pub crawl, only without the alcohol), going from one outlet to another in search of the elusive little kitty.  In neighbouring Malaysia, where the same phenomenon was happening, supermarket trolleys were laid out at McDonald outlets, for customers to deposit their unwanted Happy Meals after they had extracted the Hello Kitty.  I can only hope the uneaten meals were given to the poor and homeless afterwards, instead of being thrown away.

Hardly had the Hello Kitty dust settled, when the Minions made their grand entrance.  Those of you who watched Despicable Me in 2011, and its sequel this year, would know the Minions as the amicable slaves of the ex-villain Gru.  They look like giant yellow capsule pills in denim overalls.  Some of them have one eye, others two, and they wear industrial goggles, as their job for Gru is to engineer and manufacture machines and gadgets for his various villainous schemes.  There are thousands of them.  They have their own language, which sounds like gobbledy-gook, with the odd English word thrown in (“banana”, “potato” and the inexplicable un-PG “underwear”?!).  Anyhow, the same thing is happening to the Minions in Singapore that happened with Hello Kitty.

The kid and I were just in our local McDonald’s this morning, last week we got a yellow “Stuart” Minion who claps his hands or grabs things placed between them, and lights up when you press a button on his back.  Today we got the purple “Babbler” Minion.  In DM2 Gru’s Minions get kidnapped and turned into violent, voracious purple killing machines by way of an experimental serum.  The purple “Babbler” does exactly what it says on the packet – it babbles a mad phrase in Minion language.

Out of curiosity, I checked on eBay as to how Minions were doing.  Here is a screenshot showing completed listings on $30 plus p&p for a purple Minion?  No way!!  I’m soooo having a Minion party of my own!

You could say I’ve now got some Minions of my own…will keep you posted as to how much I make on eBay, hope my economic hunch works out.

Purple Babbler Minion on eBay
Purple Babbler Minion on eBay

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