A new product released this month by Vermont Teddy Bear may be one of the Shelburne company's edgier offerings. The "'50 Shades of Grey' Christian Grey Bear" aims to capture customers who were entranced by the wildly popular "50 Shades of Grey" trilogy of erotic books.
"It was to be fun, it wasn't to be inappropriate," company CEO Bill Shouldice IV said. "It was to make sure we were proud of what we put out there, and I think we nailed it."
The "50 Shades" novels, and a film adaptation to be released next month by Universal Pictures, have kinky content, including bondage. The marketing material accompanying the bear on Vermont Teddy Bear's website uses lines including "Dominate Valentine's Day" and "She can't help but submit to loving [the bear]."
The bear carries a set of handcuffs and a mask, and is dressed in a sharp grey suit like the book’s title character, Christian Grey.
"Like anything, I don't think this is a product for everybody," Shouldice admitted. "It's a unique product, and it's geared towards the adult."
The company has pushed boundaries before. About nine years ago, under previous management, Vermont Teddy Bear released the "Crazy for You Bear." It was dressed in a straightjacket, and drew widespread criticism that it was insensitive to the mentally ill. However, that bear was a big seller.
"Any PR can be good PR when you're trying to sell things," said Allison Kingsley, an assistant professor at the University of Vermont School of Business Administration.
Kingsley, who teaches courses on business strategy, said the gift could bring Vermont Teddy Bear new customers who may have thought the company had nothing for them.
"It opens up a new market for them," she explained. "To either recapture existing customers or get a whole new segment of the business. Companies are always looking for ways to stay fresh, and tying in with a major movie release is a very common—and many times, effective—marketing approach."
Kingsley said there is a possibility that some customers may not like the bear's allusions to erotic literature. However, she pointed out the bear itself isn't X-rated, so she doesn't expect backlash.
"I don't think it's a high risk for them," she added. "I bet they will sell more than they will lose because of this. They haven't gone completely 'triple-X-rated’ with their teddy bear, so if your child happened upon this teddy bear, they may think it's the FBI, and not bondage."
The bear makers are betting big on "50 Shades." Shouldice said the brand is planning a run of at least 10,000 bears, selling them for $89.99 apiece.
"It's a product that can be well-positioned throughout the year and for a broad demographic," he told New England Cable News.
Shouldice said men are the company's biggest customers in the weeks before Valentine's Day, and that the holiday is the brand's busiest time of year.
The "50 Shades of Grey" movie will be released Feb. 13 by Universal Pictures. NBCUniversal is the parent company of both Universal Pictures and NECN.