SillyBandz all the rage in the grade school set

SillyBandz the new hot crazeMove over Webkinz, Pokemon cards and Kooky Klicker pens ... there's a new playground darling scooping up the allowance money. SillyBandz, simple, jelly-like silicone bracelets in a rainbow of colors die-molded into cookie-cutter shapes of everything from zoo animals and princess silhouettes to rock band motifs. When worn in multiples, the bands look like a colorful mass of squiggly loops. Take them off, and they revert to their original shape.

In many parts of the U.S., the bands have cultivated the kind of fervor previously achieved by Tickle Me Elmo and the Nintendo Wii. Stores can't keep them in stock. Parents are reportedly signing up for waiting lists. There's fighting in the aisles. Store clerks are rumored to receive payoffs for allowing prioritized customers first dibs. As of this writing, SillyBandz's Rock Bands Shapes (a 24-pack goes for $6.95) are listed as the number one top-selling toy on Amazon.com, and have been on the website's top 100 list for 67 days.

In some schools, the popularity of the bracelets has gotten them banned from campuses, and even nicknamed "Contrabandz." "Getting banned fuels the craze like a five-gallon can of gasoline on a campfire," James Howard, the president of SillyBandz's rival, Zanybandz, told the The New York Times' Maplewood Blog.

It's a marketing dream.

Robert Croak, creator and president of SillyBandz at Brainchild Products in Toledo, Ohio, told WalletPop, "As far as predicting trends, I feel that there are some informational vehicles that can assist in trend spotting, but like anything the magnitude of the Sillybandz craze, you simply cannot predict it with any certainty ... SillyBandz are becoming a world wide phenomenon." Croak won't reveal just how many bands he's sold to date. "[Let's] just say it's in the millions," he said.

Croak credits the success of viral social media for building buzz for the bands. "Word of mouth can now be spread worldwide in days for free, whereas, in the past it took months and hundred of thousands of dollars in ad campaigns to achieve something that was usually less desirable. With viral marketing kids, young adults can sift through the endless information that they receive and freely choose what they like, and what they talk about in their peer groups...companies and products can go from obscurity to multi-million dollar operations in a matter of months." He should know.

On the SillyBandz Facebook page, which boasts 107,236 friends (almost 1,000 more than when I checked this morning), fans comment on their obsession. "I have 63 silly bandz and counting ..." wrote Olivia B. "I want the baseball pack," said, Christopher M. "At first, I thought silly bandz were kinda stupid and a waste of money," admitted Juliana R., "but once you have them you officially love themm!! They're just so much funn..."

SillyBandz also asked their Facebook friends what new shapes they'd like to see. The response was immediate and specific. Suggestions included, cheer themes, dog breeds, Pokemon ... who needs an R&D department?

Hopping on the SillyBandz wagon is also relatively affordable (they range from $2.50 for a pack of 12, or 24 for $5 and up). However, in spite of the bargain, and the trend's Justin Bieber-like following in the rest of the country, the fad has yet to take hold on the West Coast. I asked a few elementary school girls in Southern California if they had heard of Silly Bandz, "uh .... no." I surveyed mothers of trendy middle schoolers, no dice.

Time to query a professional. Using a SillyBandz listing of retailers found on the company's Facebook page, I called Michael Alsup, manager of Thinker Toys in Carmel, Calif. to see how sales of SillyBandz were going. "We're hoping it will pick up," said Alsup. "When we first brought them in, people were looking at them and wondering what they were."

It seems total world domination by SillyBandz is not yet complete.

Although the list of SillyBandz imitators continues to grow, Croak is betting the audience will grow as well. "The demographic for SillyBandz really changes all the time. It started out with kids 4 to 12 and has really expanded through college age and young adults. With so many different programs utilizing SillyBandz for giveaways and fundraising the demographic has expanded exponentially." Croak said, "Right now, we have programs with private label for SillyBandz for [organizations] like Red Cross, Michael J. Fox Foundation, Autism, Hershey's chocolate and many more, so the brand and people wearing them expands daily."

As for the magic and mystery behind the bands' success, one collector had this to say. "I'm an intern at an art studio and I'm around kids all day, I'm constantly trading mine or giving them away to the kids. They love them and so do I, it's the simple things in life...," ," wrote Emily P.

California, here they come.

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