If you haven’t heard about Squishmallows, the chances that you don’t have kids, don’t use social media much, or just have general disdain toward all things pop culture – are pretty high. Squishmallows, positioned by its parent company, KellyToy (a Jazwares company), as “the most collectible brand in the plush industry” is the new Beanie Babies. Taylor Laurenz, a technology reporter for The New York Times, writes in her March 16, 2021 article, “Squishmallows Are Taking Over”:
“Over the last few months, bulbous and brightly colored plush toys have sparked a Beanie Babies-style craze among children, teenagers, and adults alike.”
The description above paints a very accurate picture of the lovable toys coveted by both big kids and little kids. In a TikTok subsegment referred to as “SquishTok,” admirers of the brand share their adventures in trying to locate their favorite characters. Laurenz explains why these plush toys have become wildly popular:
“Collectors say the stuffed animals have given them comfort in a painful year, and that hunting for them has fostered a much-needed sense of community during an extended period of isolation.”
Understanding consumers’ perception of products is crucial in brand marketing, and Squishmallows illustrates this point vividly. People rely on their senses to experience and perceive the world around them, starting with the physiological senses like taste, sight, touch, smell, and hearing. Studies show just how marketing that stimulates one or any number of these senses affects consumer responses.
Squishmallows, available in sizes ranging from hand-sized to people-sized, stimulate many of these senses, and the marketing campaigns designed to promote the plush denotes acute awareness of that.
Imagine heading over to your local Walgreens on the weekend because you need to pick up a few essentials, but you also find it relaxing to check out what new novelty items they are offering. As you peruse through the aisles, you come face to face with this big and lovable pug plush:
He looks snuggly, soft, and cuddly, and when you pick him up and give him a tight squeeze, your sense of touch proves that your associations were deliciously accurate. His softness and plushness will likely trigger feelings of pleasantness – perhaps a pleasant childhood memory will float back to you. You were eight years old and at the carnival with your family, and your dad playing a game where he won an enormous plush. He gifts it to you and it was suddenly the best day ever.
While the toy that he won for you probably didn’t have a brand, it didn’t matter because what you got from it was the experience. Years later, when a similar-looking plush that triggers all the right memories is just a few bucks away from reliving that experience, you are most likely going to remember that brand because of the associative network built around it. There are many different types of Squishmallows too, from cats and elephants to tacos and burritos. The associative network in your mind that consists of “various concepts organized and stored in memory” will be a positive one.
The puppy plush also feels like a pillow, and you make other associations of laying on the couch with your arms wrapped around the big doggo (kind of like a body pillow) watching Netflix and before you know, you’ve snoozed away into happy dreamland.
The creators of Squishmallows had this is in mind when designing the product. Squishmallows resurface both semantic and episodic knowledge and memories. Semantic knowledge will have you remembering the different types of plushes and toys, while episodic knowledge will surface events and memories (the latter being the one to be most easily recalled).
Moreover, through these experiences, the consumer will also begin to formulate the brand image and brand personality of Squishmallows. As these psychological associations that are linked to physiological stimuli are triggered, consumers are much more likely to remember the brand, and as marketers know, creating brand awareness is always a top priority.