As fads go, they’re harmless as Hula Hoops, and just looking at them makes people giggle. Those little plastic headbands with the springs, topped with glittery balls, pinwheels, stars or hearts, are called Deely Bobbers, and they are waving—inexplicably—over some two million heads from New York to California. Recalling the antennae of Saturday Night Live’s killer bees, they have their origin in the fertile, fun-loving, bobber-topped brain of Los Angeles marketing expert Stephen Askin, 43. What’s the appeal of the Deely Bobber? “People love it,” Askin explains. “It changes their personalities instantly.”
A former stockbroker and gallery owner who speaks of an interest in kinetic sculpture, Askin developed the bobbers from an extant novelty headpiece, adding the springs, glitter and shapes himself. “I was looking for something with activity to it,” he says. Test marketing the item at last summer’s L.A. Street Fair, Askin sold 800 bobbers at an incredible $5 each. By January, Ace Novelty Co. of Bellevue, Wash, was turning them out en masse, to retail at up to $3 (Askin says he collects 5 to 6 percent of the wholesale). “They sell well in amusement parks, or wherever people feel silly,” Askin says, and claims, “At the World’s Fair in Knoxville, they are buying up to 10,000 a day.” An Ace executive’s wife dubbed them Deely Bobbers. “It doesn’t mean anything,” Askin admits.
This is not his first dabble in the kind of merchandise he calls “popcorn.” He had a hand in the Broccabrella, the outsize foam-rubber cowboy hat, the Ayatollah Khomeini dartboard and Pac-Man pillows. “I’m not interested in overly tasteful American crafts,” he says. Nor is he sentimental about them: “I don’t get emotionally tied to a project. If it bombs, it bombs.”
Baltimore-born to a family in dry goods (“socks, jocks and T-shirts”), Askin attended five colleges in eight years before graduating from San Jose State. Twice divorced and the father of a 12-year-old daughter, he is currently conjuring up his next project, an aerosol can labeled Nuclear Fallout Repellent, containing air, which he expects to sell for $5. But in the meantime Deely Bobbers are raking in cash (rip-offs now sell for $1). We haven’t even seen the twin bats for Halloween, the double Santas and, riding the extraterrestrial vogue, the little electric bobbers that flash.