With no plans to spend a penny on TV commercials, Santa Ana's Tomy Corp
. is betting its new i-SOBOT will capture the hearts and wallets of Americans and become one of the hottest toys this holiday.
The $300 robot, being unveiled today, has gained a following thanks to a strategic Internet campaign. Tomy
's marketing gurus targeted blogs and Web sites. Popular gadget sites, such as Engadget and Gizmodo, have been keeping tabs on its progress all year. I-SOBOT even has a MySpace page with 161 friends.
But it's not just the geek community that's curious. The 6.5-inch, bipedal mechanical creature attracted retail attention as well. Neiman Marcus
won the rights to sell i-SOBOT exclusively in September before other retailers. Other stores, including Amazon
, began taking pre-orders last month and have since asked Tomy
for more after selling out of initial allotments. Sharper Image
stores are featuring it as one of its top tech toys.
Not bad for a company that previously made only toys for toddlers.
's always been known as a preschool toy company, but we've been expanding into electronics,' said Sandra Leo, Tomy
's senior marketing manager. 'We really had to look at the best way to market (i-SOBOT). We wanted to do more untraditional marketing, like blogs, MySpace and robot fans.'
Even at the official news conference this afternoon, Tomy
is testing a new tactic. It's inviting consumers not only to listen to the Webcast but ask questions at tomy
-usa.com/mediaroom. If the campaign works, it will save Tomy
a lot of money.
'Usually, traditional marketing with TV can be a couple of million of dollars depending on the campaign,' Leo said. 'Based on the nontraditional marketing approach TOMY
is taking by reaching consumers through limited print, online, word of mouth, and the news conference, TOMY
will spend approximately between $200,000 to $400,000 – much less than traditional marketing with TV.'
Japanese parent Tomy Co. Ltd
. spent two years developing i-SOBOT. An American version was tweaked for the U.S. consumer. Leo said the local office gave it a sense of humor. i-SOBOT will crack jokes, tell you that you smell funny, act drunk and imitate Dirty Harry's infamous line 'Go ahead, make my day.'
American consumers are getting their hands on i-SOBOT before the Japanese. Tomy
's local office wanted the robot in time for Christmas. Retailers in Japan don't depend on the holiday season as much as U.S. retailers. So the Omnibot, as it's called in Japan, will hit stores there a month later.
didn't have to do too much marketing. The buzz about i-SOBOT is that it's a bipedal robot that comes pre-assembled and ready to play with. And it doesn't cost thousands of dollars.
The diminutive i-SOBOT is packed with technology: 17 custom-developed servo motors, 19 integrated circuit chips, a gyro-sensor, two LEDs and software. It sings, dances, does somersaults and karate chops, plays air guitar and balances on one leg. Using an infrared remote control, users can tell the i-SOBOT what to do by typing in up to 200 preprogrammed actions.
'We're not calling it a toy. It's more of an electronics gadget,' Leo said.