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December 9, 2009
Zhu Zhus Were Launched Via PR Parties and Social Media

The sell-out Zhu Zhu hamsters had PR coming-out parties and social media introductions that helped build their status as this year's holiday smash toy hits. Kit Yarrow, Ph.D., reports on The Huffington Post that the scampering mechanical hamsters benefited from "300 in-home hamster parties" held by Cepia LLC, the St. Louis company that created them. At those affairs, "influential mommy bloggers" received hamsters, habitrails, games, and a "hamster crunch" recipe.

There were giveaways at hospitals, zoos, and seven major-league ballgames, too. Zhu Zhus have also benefited from heightened word of mouth generated partly, it appears, by PR-abetted scarcity. 

Cepia also had a Twitter party that generated more than 9,000 tweets. 

 "And they inspired bloggers -- thousands of them," Yarrow writes. "The homegrown, personal communication of bloggers is like a grown-up version of word of mouth -- it feels like a trustworthy recommendation and inspires action in a way that advertising can't. Advertising certainly created interest, especially in kids and recognition and credibility in their parents, but social media drove desire. 

"Personal recommendations are more powerful than corporate messages as consumers increasingly trust each other more than businesses."

Cepia, Yarrow reports, anticipates $100 million in sales by the year's end. While Zhu Zhus sell for $10, if you can find them at your local toy department, they are bringing $30 and more on Amazon.

Here we have an impressive demonstration of social media's reach when it's marshaled well, as part of an explicit public relations/marketing plan.

There could be a downside, though. Yarrow predicts that fallout from disappointed households this year will bring a backlash against Zhu Zhus next year. We may see, though, what PR can do to avoid that. The little critters may be too endearing to just flash out. 


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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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