July 22, 2014

Elyria
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New tickle-me toys are ‘X-treme’ for X-mas

ELYRIA — Sesame Street’s laugh pack is back, and this time, they’re “X-treme.”Following the success of last year’s T.M.X. Elmo — the furry red Sesame Street doll that giggled, jittered and rolled around in uncontrollable fits of laughter — Fisher-Price is following up its “Tickle Me X-treme” platform with the release of T.M.X. Cookie Monster and T.M.X. Ernie.

The strategy mirrors the company’s approach in 1997 when it followed the overwhelming release of the original Tickle Me Elmo doll and its more than 1 million in sales by releasing Sesame Street comrades Cookie Monster and Ernie.

BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE
Franklin Elementary kindergarteners watch T.M.X. Ernie and Cookie Monster in action at school last week.

Chris Byrne, an independent toy industry analyst, said the follow-up release of the Tickle Me versions worked the first time, and odds are it will work again.

“It has somewhat to do with the fact that it’s a great toy,” he said. “But if you’re a parent and your child has just become the right age for Cookie Monster or Ernie, these toys are still considered brand new.”

The release of T.M.X. Elmo last fall marked the 10th anniversary of the doll’s initial release and resulted in the most technologically advanced Elmo yet. The $40 toy could sit, fall, roll over, kick its legs and stand up on its own, all while egging on its tickler through a recorded playback of its voice.

“It was a real feat of engineering, not only for what it could do, but its price point,” Byrne said. “The infrastructure is more amazing than the character, but it’s the character that sells it.”

T.M.X. Ernie and T.M.X. Cookie Monster are 3 inches smaller than their predecessor and also $10 cheaper.

A light tap on Cookie Monster’s stomach sends the toy into a humorous grumbling fit, rolling from side to side before getting back up on its own. Ernie also rolls and wiggles restlessly, kicking his feet up in the air, before yelling out for his rubber ducky in between wheezy laughter.

Carolyn Landis, a licensed clinical psychologist at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, said when it comes to toys, the tangible puppets of Sesame Street may have an advantage over cartoons.

“Any interactive toy gets a kid’s attention,” she said. “But kids have been able to bond with Elmo and the other characters because they’re so real to them.”

So which one of the new T.M.X. characters reigns supreme?

A class full of Franklin Elementary kindergarteners in Elyria was split, but a Toys ’R  Us representative in Elyria said it appeared that Cookie Monster had the initial sales advantage.

Toy analyst Byrne said he predicts the toys will again be a hit this holiday season and beyond, and consumers can expect to see the Tickle Me brand for a long time to come.

“These toys are built in a market constantly evolving,” Byrne said. “As long as people keep reproducing and buying stuff, there’ll be a market for this product.”
Contact Stephen Szucs at 336-4016 or sszucs@chroniclet.com.