A toy that made a difference, twice.
The double success of the Follow Me Fred dog
Approximately ten years ago, while serving as design and innovation director at Tiny Love toy company, I sent several designers a , as at that time we were seeking to expand our infant floor toy category. From our point of view, Fischer Price, which had been market leader for several decades, was our main competitor on the infant toy shelves of the international chain stores, along with several other brands.
I received dozens of ideas and sketches of toys from the designers, but was especially caught on a sketch that came from Daniel Kisch's design studio. It was of a small, cute puppy that rolled around on four wheels.
Kisch later told me that he was inspired by Toy Story's Slinky Dog, a Dachshund toy that is popular in the United States. His, however, had a twist: instead of the metal slinky that connects the dog's front and hindquarters, Kisch designed an accordion-like middle part that enables the dog to twist its body and move in a circular path.
We experimented with all kinds of ideas to enhance the cute puppy … we gave it ears with crinkly paper inside, a spring-like tail that the infant can play with, added buttons on its legs, and tried out some other ideas that aimed to increase the toy's consumer value.
But we were still not completely satisfied with the concept. There were so many other toy dogs on the market…
At one point, I was asked about the advantage and uniqueness of the toy. I answered that it is a smart dog that responds to the infant and encourages it to crawl better than any other toy.
We therefore designed a mechanism that would make sure the puppy would not wander too far away from the infant (a situation that might, psychologically, frustrate the infant, causing her or him to abandon the toy). In addition, we added a feature whereby if there is no contact between the infant and the toy puppy for a couple of seconds, the puppy barks a couple times, beckoning the infant to re-engage.
After adding the value of motion and communication between the toy puppy and the infant, all of our sales and marketing personnel changed their opinions 180 degrees. They were suddenly aware of a solution to a real, important need, especially one felt by parents. This toy puppy actually encourages the infant to "get a on".
I also mentioned that the accordion-like middle part will be adjustable, so that the toy puppy will be able to move around the infant in circles without moving away from him or her at all. This property was also perceived as adding value to the product.
From my perspective, we succeeded in that we created a product with a complete and authentic concept that encourages crawling. The toy's sales attest to that success.