Which Giant Microbe Will You Give Your Loved Ones?

Sometimes, I encounter Web businesses that are so fun and imaginative that they almost seem like they HAVE to have been started online. Giantmicrobes, Inc., is one of those businesses. I wish all Internet-based viruses were like these guys.

Giantmicrobes™ are plush dolls that look like common microbes, only a million or more times their actual size. The product line was introduced more than two years ago, and it has grown into something of a phenomenon. The combination of humor and education resonates with parents, children, educators, pediatricians, science buffs and many others. Mostly, it provides buyers a chance to give their loved ones the flu and make them laugh about it.

Giantmicrobes are available in drug stores, bookstores, museums such as Boston's Museum of Science and the like, children's and hospital gift shops, educational catalogs, and general gift shops worldwide. But, you guessed it. They sell most of their calamities, germs and humorous maladies online.



The initial Giantmicrobes-Common Cold, Flu, Sore Throat, and Stomach Ache represented the microbes Rhinovirus, Orthomyxoviridus, Streptococcus, and Shigella respectively. Each doll is accompanied by an image of the real microbe represented, along with information about the actual microbe on an attached tag.

Originally marketed as an educational product, interest in Giantmicrobes has reached epidemic proportions (sorry), with news coverage on CNN, Univision, Fox News, and from Dave Barry, among others. "Germs of Endearment," crowed Daily Candy. This is funny stuff to me, made even funnier by the fact that its founder is a former editor at the Harvard Lampoon humor magazine. Yup - it's a real business. And these guys are enjoying some really sick success.

"Everybody feels ill sometimes," said Drew Oliver, the company's Chicago-based CEO and Founder. "Giantmicrobes are a fun way of reifying that experience, especially for kids. Why not make their illness into a fun learning experience?"

The company recently introduced a new doll, called Martian Life, which is modeled after a worm-like critter. Mars Rock ALH 84001 produced rampant speculation after bacteria-like shapes were discovered inside. And if life does exist on other planets in the solar system, chances are good that they resemble little red creatures.

So, what innovative Web methods has Giantmicrobes employed to market their products? "We're mostly relying on good broadcast and Web public relations and the best part is that, when one media outlet runs a story on us, the others generally call. We haven't cold-pitched anyone yet," said Charles Foster, Giantmicrobes Director of Marketing and Business Development.

I guess this is proof of a good idea, since that is, after all, how I heard of them. With overseas manufacturing and offshore tech support for its site, the company keeps costs low and margins extremely high. This has enabled them to self-capitalize, so that the next steps, such as developing affiliate networks and online retailer relationships, will be managed more in their favor, with no other company (or demanding investor) holding the upper hand.

"We're developing multiple sales channels since this product can obviously be an educational one or just a fun one for kids or among friends," said Mr. Foster. "Now, if your child has a tummy ache, you'll almost certainly make them smile with the Stomach Ache Giantmicrobe. We caution people about giving out bad breath though. That one is best delivered anonymously."

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