Jesus is selling out.
By JOHN EWOLDT, Star Tribune
Out of Wal-Mart and Target, that is. The 12-inch, $20 Jesus Messenger of Faith talking action figure has become a holiday hit of biblical proportions. Online mega-retailers Wal-Mart.com and Amazon.com are sold out. Target.com’s supply is likely to disappear within a few days.
The response has been “unbelievable,” said Josh Livingston, spokesman for Valencia, Calif.-based One2believe, which also sells talking Moses, Mary, David, Esther and Noah action figures. The company has sold more than 20,000 dolls in the series, with Jesus far and away the most popular.
Religious toys represent less than one-half of 1 percent of the $22.3 billion U.S. toy industry, according to Packaged Facts and NPD Group market research.
Sales of all types of Christian products, though, topped $4.5 billion last year, a niche market retailers are eager to tap into at a time when films such as “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” found mainstream blockbuster success.
Sheila Daraitis of Brooklyn Park said that she resorted to online shopping to find the toys because Target and Wal-Mart stores rarely, if ever, had them. Her boys, ages 3 and 6, play with the biblical action figures more than her 8-year-old daughter, who prefers Barbie.
“They enact the Nativity and Noah’s Ark,” Daraitis said.
Shoppers at Target.com have rated the Jesus figure “five stars,” as have consumers at Amazon.com. One reviewer at Amazon.com describes the religious figure as “a real-life hero that beats all the other Superman, Spider-Man and other action heroes combined.” Another wrote, “My 10-year-old listens to the Scriptures often, but the voice of Jesus is a little loud.”
Neither the Minneapolis Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America nor the office of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis had heard of the action figure, much less gotten complaints. People in both offices laughed in delight at the idea of such a doll.
New and improved
Clothed in a simple off-white robe with a brown sash and rope belt, the Jesus doll has moveable outstretched hands, shaggy hair and a beard. Livingston said the company introduced the new Jesus doll to Wal-Mart and Target in August after a previous version failed to sell so miraculously. That doll just spoke the Scripture and was only available through One2believe.com.
The new-and-improved version tells stories about David and Goliath or feeding the 5,000 with loaves and fishes in addition to speaking Bible verses such as John 3:16 and Mark 12:30-31.
Talking Jesus is made in China
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Melissa O’Brien said the talking dolls also sold in 425 of the discount chain’s stores this season (none were in Minnesota) to see how well religious toys sell. O’Brien said sales were brisk and many stores sold out.
One2believe founder David Socha has said that he has watched the “gradual moral decline of toys,” and that he doesn’t want his children playing with much of what’s on the market because the toys glorify the wrong things.
“A lot of the girl dolls are very promiscuous in their look and dress,” and a lot of the toys for boys are very violent, Socha said.
Wanting the toys to reach as many children as possible, the for-profit Christian company placed most of its supply into big-box stores, although some independent Christian bookstores also sell the dolls. In the past, parents have had to go to Christian bookstores to find religious toys.
Northwestern bookstores, with eight Twin Cities locations, has sold a similar talking Jesus doll in previous seasons, but there were quality issues: His beard came off too easily and the doll repeated the same Scripture passage, not multiple verses as it was supposed to, said Burnsville store manager Cheryl Dickson. Both she and O’Brien said that children’s nativity sets are also a big seller this year.
Parents who want to put the birthday guy under the Christmas tree for their children might have a Google search ahead of them this weekend if Target.com runs out.
But let the buyer beware: Talking Jesus is made in China.
Last update: December 15, 2007 – 8:18 PM