Jan. 24, 2009 -- In tried-and-true, over-the-top infomerical style, the ubiquitous commercial for the Snuggie -- the blanket with sleeves -- shows a woman struggling mightily to escape from a regular blanket, and then it shows people engaging in various activities with their newfound Snuggie freedom.
The simple concept for a blanket with sleeves has been around for many years. It sometimes goes by other aliases -- the Slanket, the Book Blanket, the Cuddle Wrap or the Toasty Wrap. But no other blanket-with-sleeves has penetrated pop culture quite like the Snuggie.
"We test numerous products each year and don't know which ones will be a success," said Scott Boilen, CEO and president of Allstar Products Group, the maker of the sleeved blanket. "The Snuggie tested well in August, but it's become much bigger than expected."
The most bizarre infomercials used to come on only in the middle of the night. But the recession is making television ad space cheaper. So, now direct-to-consumer product makers can afford to air commercials all the time, even in prime time.
That may have helped pave the way this winter for the Snuggie sensation.
While retail sales of everything else seem to be going down, Snuggies are selling through the roof -- with more than 4 million sold since September.
A.J. Khubani, CEO of Telebrands, a leader in the direct-to-consumer industry, said the Snuggie is successful because, like all infomercial products, it solves a common problem, it is not readily available at retail stores and it is fun.
"The Snuggie is hitting the target exactly," said Khubani. "When people are watching TV at home, they are usually sitting with a blanket, and they are usually a little bit cold and uncomfortable. They see the Snuggie commercial and it immediately resonates because they are experiencing that problem while they are watching the commercial."
The Snuggie's popularity has spawned legions of fans -- and haters. The Snuggie fan page on Facebook has almost 5,000 fans, while YouTube features more than a few Snuggie-hater parodies.
Jay Leno of "The Tonight Show" is not a fan. He's ridiculed the Snuggie several times in the last few months, saying in a recent monologue, "Why don't you put your robe on backwards? That's all it is."
But love it or loathe it, the fleece blanket with a funny name is a success -- the kind all direct-to-consumer advertisers are looking for.
Khubani, who's been selling "as-seen-on-TV" products for more than 25 years, is always looking for the next Snuggie.
"Inventors come to us all the time," he said. "We search trade shows. There are literally thousands of products out there that people have never seen or heard of, and lots of them are great ideas.
"We are constantly looking through products and test marketing products," he said, "to see what's going to be that perfect one that's going to resonant with the American public and sell millions of units."