CINCINNATI -- In the year since her birth, Fiona the adorable baby hippo has become a marketing and branding phenomenon.
The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden has partnered with various companies for merchandise like Fiona shirts, hats and playing cards. They've been riding the crest of a huge wave. The question is: how long will it last?
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At DIY Printing, they were hard at work Wednesday making Fiona tops for Cincy Shirts. They've been flying off the shelves almost as fast as they can be made. Production Manager Billy Devore said nobody saw it coming.
"No one would guess that a premature born baby hippo would go from local celebrity to worldwide," he said.
But that's what happened as companies made Fiona hats, T-shirts, tumblers, ice cream and beer.
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"We've shipped shirts to Japan, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, all over the world," Devore said. "People love her so much. It's pretty impressive."
The U.S. Playing Card Company has "Fiona fever" as well. President Mike Slaughter has a Fiona cookie jar on his desk and wears a Fiona T-shirt on occasions. The company has made decks of Fiona playing cards, but the backs have a particular focus.
"The pictures are really not just all of Fiona, but the people who really cared for Fiona in the days when we didn't know if she was going to survive," he said.
Slaughter said the company made the cards as a way to support the zoo and the community. He's as surprised as anyone by the popularity of the hippo, both here at home and around the world.
"I've even had friends in China ask, 'Hey, can I get decks of those because I've seen Fiona on the internet,'" he said.
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The zoo continues to get offers to partner on products and is on the lookout for knockoffs. They're selective to make sure the quality is as high as Fiona is cute. So far, the products have generated more than $500,000 in revenue.
So why is Fiona so popular? Erin Wisecup, vice president of client engagement for LPK, a Cincinnati-based worldwide branding firm, said Fiona's story is an extension of the zoo's established brand, but so compelling she might become bigger than the zoo itself.
"A great brand really knows how to connect -- emotionally and rationally -- and this story is one we can all rally around," Wisecup said. "She's the hero in an incredible story of overcoming the odds. It's about community coming together."