A gimmick seeks a groundswell

Ever wish you could cradle a rubber waterfowl strangely resembling your favorite celebrity, but with a bright orange bill for a nose?

Me neither. But someday, some of us might succumb.

Such a product will hit stores this fall. It's already available online and as a promotional giveaway in some sports arenas.

If marketers have their way, this novelty – the Celebriduck – will find what writer Malcolm Gladwell called its "tipping point" in his 2000 book by that name.

In case you missed the buzz, the tipping point is the moment at which a given product – or idea – catches fire with the masses. It happens when, to put it in Mr. Gladwell's terms, the right people offer their stamp of approval.

Gladwell calls such trendsetters "mavens." Others emulate them.

Toymaker Tyco showed a good understanding of the theory years before it was even articulated.

The firm gave one of its new Tickle-Me Elmo dolls to the child of talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell in July 1996. By Christmas – thanks in large part to Ms. O'Donnell, who had been given another 200 Elmos to toss out into her live audience – it was a must-have.

In resales by individuals who'd won the foot race to the stores, the fuzzy red doll sold for many times its list price. (My trend-spotting big sister bought one for my oblivious newborn; I didn't cash in.)

Was this vibrating Elmo a "better mousetrap" from which consumers could measurably benefit? Hardly.

Neither is our celebrity duck. But as writer Noel Paul explains, the duck's maker – a much smaller fish than Tyco – banks on tapping into Americans' love for celebs (and willingness to buy almost anything).

Will it also find its mavens?

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