In 1902, US President Theodore Roosevelt went on a hunting trip in Mississippi. One day he went back to camp and his party went on and cornered an American Black Bear before calling him back to take the kill for himself. When he arrived he looked at the bear, and looking at it’s state, refused the kill, calling it ‘unsportsmanlike’.
Newpapers picked up on this, creating the cartoon by Clifford Berryman, above. Morris Michtom saw the cartoon and seised his opportunity, creating ‘Teddy’s Bear’ (with the full permission of the President to use his name). Michtom founded the Ideal Novelty & Toy Co (today called Ideal, which was once the largest toy company in the world. All you early adopters who had the first Rubik’s Cube, the name on the box was…yes, you guessed it, Ideal). The rest they say, is history.
I bet everyone reading this has heard of, owned, or seen a Teddy Bear.
But have you heard of a Billy Possum?
The next president of the US after Theodore Roosevelt was William H. Taft. The toy market was buzzing after the Teddy Bear became so popular, but many believed the teddy bear was a fad. In 1909 Taft was having a dinner, and at his request, was tucking into ‘possum and taters’. After the President Elect had stuffed his belly, he was presented with a stuffed possum toy that he was told would replace the Teddy Bear. The bear was named ‘Billy Possum’.
Taft liked the toy and the Georgia Billy Possum Company was formed. It was hailed by the press, the market was flooded with all sorts of Billy Possum related products and songs were even written about it.
But the toy flopped. In fact it didn’t even make it until Christmas. Teddy Bears sell over $1 billion worth every year.
Why did this happen?
Teddy’s exist because of a story based on empathy and compassion for a product that is soft, cuddly and is designed to be loved. It’s a lovely story that is emotively compatible with the toy.
The possum is based on someone looking to make money by making a toy based on something a president liked to eat. It wasn’t loveable, emotively it wasn’t right.
If you want to start your own business, make sure you believe in it and do something you love. You will find someone else will believe in it too. But have a story, a reason why, rather than just looking to replicate another success.
…And for all you Teddy’s out there, get in touch.