Last Updated: November 25, 2020

In 1996, Tyco Toys had an unexpected pop culture obsession on its hands with Tickle Me Elmo, the laughing Sesame Street muppet doll that literally caused stampedes of customers during the holiday season.

Interest in Tickle Me Elmo was high from the start, but skyrocketed once supplies of the toy couldn’t meet the mounting demand as the end of the year approached. After the dust settled, Tyco saw their profits multiply to five times their projections, reaching $350 million for 1996 alone. Tickle Me Elmo’s success might have caught Tyco Toys by surprise, but that success wasn’t entirely accidental.

Tickle Me Elmo was an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Sesame Street by redesigning a generic, laughing gorilla toy first presented to Tyco in 1992.

The company conducted research to determine which Sesame Street character was the most popular among the toy’s target demographic, then Tyco sent out promotional items and press releases to several popular magazines that featured content about toys. Soon, Tyco had advertising deals with daytime TV shows, along with several hands-on demonstrations of Tickle Me Elmo with toy industry leaders. The buzz Tyco generated around their product created an unprecedented level of demand. Tyco’s strategy “pulled” its customers to the product instead of introducing the product to customers who knew nothing about it.

What is pull marketing?

Pull marketing is any method a company uses to generate demand for a product. This is contrasted with “push” marketing, which is a strategy intended to sell out an existing supply of a product.

Modern pull marketing uses various media channels to generate interest about a product or company, encouraging customers to seek out the product or company on their own. This is especially popular and effective within Internet marketing, because pull marketing benefits greatly from independent social behavior like word-of-mouth and the “viral” content effect. (See also Viral Marketing)

Methods of Pull Marketing

There are many different ways to reach customers using pull marketing techniques. Any of the following can build excitement for a product or trust in a company.

  • Social networking for the word-of-mouth effect
  • Media coverage to reach a wider audience
  • Strategic placement of a product or store
  • Informational content like blogs to attract people who are interested in similar products or services.

With Tickle Me Elmo, Tyco Toys created demand for their product by making sure customers saw it in prominent places, like toy magazines and on TV shows, prior to actually placing the toy in stores. By targeting the right media outlets, Tyco created demand that let them manufacture as many Tickle Me Elmo dolls as their clients (toy retailers) needed, rather than manufacturing the dolls first and trying to convince their clients to stock them.

Who uses pull marketing?

Companies that produce or sells goods can use pull marketing to raise awareness about a product before it becomes available for purchase. Though the results of the marketing campaign are not certain until the product is made available, the manufacturer can save money on production costs by producing fewer units of the product prior to launch, and using the money they save to invest in pull advertising.

Ideally, the demand will exceed the supply, and the company will be able to set a higher price because of this. This is exactly what happened with Tickle Me Elmo. Tyco produced only a small number of dolls to start, but spent more time and money on market research and advertising. The demand for the toy resulting from this advertising allowed Tyco to set higher prices for their product simply because people were willing to pay more to acquire the limited number of dolls available.

Service industry companies use pull marketing to generate interest in new services or to create positive feedback about the company. If a massage clinic, for example, wanted to increase its business, it could use social media sites to encourage their customers to share information about the clinic with their friends. People are much more likely to buy a product or visit a business on the recommendation of a friend. Through social networking, the massage clinic can rely on some of its existing customers to “advertise” for the clinic through recommendations. (See also Services Marketing)

Social Media: The Biggest Demographic

The number of people who use major social media networks like Facebook and Twitter is staggering, while the cost of maintaining a social media presence is minimal. For the cost of a computer and one hour a day of employee time, any company can have a strong social media presence that reaches thousands of potential customers or more every day.

  • Number of people who use Facebook: 500 million
  • Number of Twitter users who follow eight or more other Twitter accounts: 56 million
  • Number of registered Foursquare users: 7.5 million
  • Number of unique visitors to Yelp per year: 78 million

Source: Internal Telecommunication Union

Using pull marketing

A pull marketing campaign is customer-focused, but should still start with the analysis of the product the company wants to sell. The company needs to determine what the product’s key features are and who is most likely to demand it through extensive market research.

If, for instance, a company wanted to open an ice skating rink during the winter, the company should start researching several months before the season to learn the who, what, where, when, and how of creating an ice skating rink in the area. This research could consist of analyzing demographic data about surrounding neighborhoods, and surveying people in a high-traffic area like a shopping mall to find out who is most interested in ice skating.

More Fun with Winter

The Calgary Farmers’ Market struggled with low customer traffic during the winter months every year. They did some research and discovered that, unsurprisingly, people assumed there would be little or no fresh produce available during the winter. To combat this misconception and bring people into the market in the coldest part of the year, the Calgary Farmers’ Market embarked on a brilliant campaign in 2011 that involved hanging fresh apples on snow-covered trees along Calgary’s major streets. Instead of just advertising their products, the Calgary Farmers’ Market gave consumers a reason to pay attention to the market during a traditionally slow season. This significantly increased interest in the market in general. The campaign was so successful that new branches of the once-troubled market continue to open in other parts of the city every year.

Using the market research data to tailor their message, the company might develop an advertising plan to generate interest in the new ice skating rink before it opens. Because the purpose of pull marketing is to convince customers to seek out a product on their own, using direct methods of advertising like mail fliers and TV commercials may not be effective.

Instead, the rink-building company could develop a blog about winter activities, using keywords that relate to the geographic area of the ice skating rink to be a source of information local people would seek out for themselves. The blog would be especially effective if it linked to a social networking page about the rink itself so readers could receive periodic reminders about the business and share that information with others (See also Web Marketing).

If the pull marketing plan is successful, interest in the new ice skating rink will exist before it even opens. Customers will be curious and excited to visit the rink and are very likely to tell other people about their experience once the rink actually opens, generating a powerful word-of-mouth effect.

Careers in pull marketing

Pull marketing takes place across several stages of a product’s life cycle, so there are many marketing careers that are essential to making a pull marketing campaign succeed.

Market Researcher

What do they do?

Pull Marketing Salaries

  • Market Researcher
    Starting: $39,000
    Median: $51,000
    Top Earners: $65,000
  • Public Relations Representative
    Starting: $34,000
    Median: $46,000
    Top Earners: $55,000
  • Brand Manager
    Entry Level: $67,000
    Median: $92,000
    Highest Earners: $119,000


Market research is one of the most important components of a pull marketing campaign. A company needs the data gathered by a researcher to plan its advertising and appeal to the customers who are most likely to buy the product. Market researchers spend time in the field conducting surveys, as well as finding and analyzing existing market data. This requires a mix of communication skills with many different kinds of people and an analytical mind to identify the details that are most useful in existing data.

Education and Skills

Market researchers should have a bachelor’s degree in marketing, business, psychology, or sociology. Any background in customer relations, like retail, is very useful. Strong computer literacy is also vital for research and creating presentations to share research findings with other people on a marketing team.

Public Relations Representative

What do they do?

Pull marketing often requires a company to interact with press and social networking platforms. A public relations specialist is a company’s liaison to these outside entities. This involves a lot of interpersonal interaction, so a public relations representative needs to be able to communicate with a wide variety of professionals and everyday people comfortably and effectively.

Education and Skills

Specialists in public relations should have a bachelor’s degree in marketing, business, psychology, or communications. Past work in a call center can be helpful, as can any experience in a media-focused setting like a periodical.

Brand Manager

What do they do?

Brand management is a leadership role in many marketing teams. Brand managers are involved in the creation of a product at every stage. They research the competition a product or company faces in the marketplace, identifies marketing opportunities, oversees the advertising plan for a product, and monitors the finances of a marketing team.

Education and Skills

In addition to a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in marketing, business, or communications, a brand manager is expected to have several years of experience in some other area of marketing. This includes research, analysis, advertising, and sales. Because it is a management position, brand management requires demonstrated leadership abilities as well.

How can a marketing school help you succeed?

Our Recommended Schools

  1. Grand Canyon University (GCU)

    GCU's Colangelo College of Business offers leading edge degrees that address the demands of contemporary business environments.

  2. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)

    Explore the bond between business and consumer behavior with a degree in marketing.

Understanding of what pull marketing strategies are, who uses them, and how those strategies are developed is a great first step to becoming a professional in the field. It serves as a strong foundation for more extensive training in marketing education programs that impart future professionals with the skills and knowledge necessary to excel in marketing.

A marketing education begins with coursework that explores the principles of many marketing strategies, including pull marketing. Course topics like supply chain principles place the concepts of push and pull marketing into the greater context of economics. Students will also take business technology courses that introduce students to everything from Internet research techniques to database management and image editing tools that are vital to branding, like Adobe Photoshop.

Advanced marketing classes concentrate on extended simulations and case studies. Students will examine success stories like the Tickle Me Elmo phenomenon in great and empirical detail. They will also learn how to apply their newly acquired skills in market research, advertising, and financial planning to implement simulated marketing projects of their own.

The skills and experience provided by a marketing education lay the groundwork for a long and successful career. Whether graduates go on to work with small start-ups, Fortune 500 corporations, or even start their own businesses, the value of a thorough marketing program pays dividends for a lifetime.