Edgy Mama: Running the marketing hamster wheel with Mr. Squiggles

If you’re a parent, and you haven’t heard of Zhu Zhu pets, you either live on Mars or you’re my spouse (in other words— oblivious).

Unfortunately, I do know about Zhu Zhu pets — this year’s holiday toy craze.

Zhu Zhus are toy hamster robots with cutesy monikers like Num Nums, Chunk and Mr. Squiggles. They’re “interactive,” which supposedly means they’re almost as much fun as real hamsters. They may be preferable to live rodents, in fact, since they don’t eat or poop or do inappropriate stuff with their hamster friends in front of the kids. At least that’s what the marketers want us to believe. 

Kids can collect all five pets, plus accessories, which, according to my calculations would cost only about $200 more than buying one live hamster and feeding it organic carrots throughout its entire two-year lifespan. The Zhu Zhu pets I found via Amazon.com cost about $30 each. Accessory kits (slides, adventure balls, blankets and carriers) run about $25 to $55. More money, less mess.

For the first time since Pet Rocks were hot in 1975, I got caught up in a toy craze (yes, it’s impressive how far toys have come in 30-plus years — from a rock with fake eyes glued on it to a hamster that propels itself around the house in an adventure ball).

I purchased three fricking Zhu Zhu pets (one for both my kids and one for my niece) from a company on Amazon that promises to ship them before Christmas. I even congratulated myself on getting a deal after hearing that the popular playthings are selling for big bucks on sites like E-bay (I’ve never understood why selling stuff at more than retail is OK — isn’t it like scalping tickets? I suppose retail prices are random and based on demand. So, maybe not. Clearly, I wasn’t paying attention in Econ. 101).

So here I am, feeling pleased with myself, because my kids have always wanted a hamster, but I’ve refused, because one, they smell funny, and two, we already own three predators who would like nothing more than to murder Hammy and leave him eviscerated on my son’s bed. Despite my explanations about animal hunting instincts, my kids have campaigned hard for a pet R.O.S.S. (rodent of small size). My daughter even started a blog a few years ago, which she named, “Rodent Love: my first blog — all about rodents and my life.” I had to make the site private because you can imagine the kind of perverted traffic it could get.

But I congratulated myself too soon on the acquisition of robot rodents. The day after I purchased three Zhu Zhus, I learned that Mr. Squiggles might have tested higher than normal for a potentially carcinogenic metal called antimony. I’m on every parental fear-mongering e-mail list in the universe, so I know more than eight million ways for kids to be poisoned, injured, or killed by seemingly innocuous products. Antimony is one of them.

I’m not sure why a furry kid toy would be covered with something that sounds like it originated in circle eight of Dante’s Inferno, as in, “the demons poured burning antimony down the throats of sinners.” Those would be the sinners who ignore their gut reactions and give in to advertising pressure. Nor do I get why Mr. Squiggles is dangerous, while his comrades are not (only he tested high for the toxin).

Of course, two of the three Zhu Zhus I ordered are Mr. Squiggles.

But CNN reported that the U.S.-based manufacturer, Cepia of St. Louis, say they’ve “conducted rigorous safety testing” and Mr. Squiggles is not dangerous (unless you accidentally step on him in the middle of the night when you’re letting the dog out. But that’s your problem, not theirs.)

The Consumer Product Safety Commission says Mr. Squiggles is safe. It seems to boil down to how the toy is tested, but I still don’t like the idea of antimony. Is it OK for my kids to play with Mr. Squiggles as long as they promise not to lick him? Should I exchange Mr. Squiggles for Pipsqueek (stet) or Chunk?

My kids probably will read this, and I’m sure they’ll immediately start their own marketing campaign to convince me that hamster robots are the greatest Christmas gifts ever.

But I should have known better. I pride myself on not falling into marketing traps. But this year I descended into the eighth circle of hell. Send help.

Anne Fitten “Edgy Mama” Glenn writes about a number of subjects, including parenting, at www.edgymama.com.


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One thought on “Edgy Mama: Running the marketing hamster wheel with Mr. Squiggles

  1. Nice note from retired metallurgist about antimony:’

    Ms Glenn,

    I know nothing about robot hamsters, but a little about metals. In the quantities I’m guessing are involved for the toy in question, there is probably no problem. For example, pewter used to be made by adding lead to tin to harden it, until it was realized that the lead leached out and was poisoning people. So, lead was replaced, inter alia, by copper, bismuth or silver, and—you guessed it, antimony “–Antimony adds whiteness and hardness—“. Antimony is so brittle it is never used as a metal, per se, but only to confer some benefit as an alloying element. So, if it can be used for pewter eating and serving utensils, it can’t be all that dangerous.

    Jerry Friedman
    Retired Metallurgist

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