Magic Eye Thrives on Staring Ex-Hippie Does Brisk Business Marketing 2-D Images with Hidden 3-D Pictures

By Shelley Donald Coolidge, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, February 2, 1995 | Go to article overview

Magic Eye Thrives on Staring Ex-Hippie Does Brisk Business Marketing 2-D Images with Hidden 3-D Pictures


Shelley Donald Coolidge, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


STARING usually isn't considered polite. But Tom Baccei, creator of Magic Eye, has made a bundle encouraging people to do it.

There are few places in the world where one can't find his two-dimensional computer-generated dot images, which, when stared at properly, appear to be three-dimensional. From Australian Aboriginal huts to a question on "Jeopardy," Magic Eye has made it.

Total retail sales worldwide in 1994 for products bearing the Magic Eye logo, Mr. Baccei estimates, are between $200 million and $250 million. (The 15 million books sold in 1994 alone represent roughly $200 million in sales.)

The 3-D concept has been around for about 150 years. "{But} what was missing from the mix ... was P. T. Barnum," he says in an interview at his company headquarters, N.E. Thing Enterprises Inc., in Bedford, Mass. "There's got to be a big marketing concept and the willingness to think big."

The key to much of Baccei's success has been his home-grown marketing genius, which he attributes to his melange of experiences during his hippie years: teacher, blues musician, carpenter, and tour-bus driver.

What he started in 1991 - advertising a few posters and a 1992 calendar in airline magazines - has erupted into a marketing success. Just about anything that can be printed on has become a target for these playful patterns: calendars, greeting cards, postcards, videos, T-shirts, neckties, children's sleepwear, Pepsi cans in Britain, 20 million Honey Nut and Apple Cinnamon Cheerios boxes, as well as a weekly syndicated feature in some 300 newspapers.

But books are the core business, which include Magic Eye I, II, and III; a Christmas book "Do You See What I See"; and "Disney's Magic Eye."

Baccei's strategy has been twofold. First, he wanted to get as many people as possible hooked. "My idea from the very beginning, was a breeder reactor. I wanted to find ways of disseminating this broadly," he contends.

In the beginning, he says he gave away as much as he could for free. "It was my firm conviction that ... the more of them that were in people's wallets or on their coffee tables or wherever, the more likely it would turn into a phenomenon, which, it really did."

Second, he has attempted, quite successfully, to associate Magic Eye with brand-name commercial giants. "I don't want this to be a fad industry," Baccei says. "I very much want to make this business into an ongoing established part of the American market."

"How do we do that? Like this," he says, pointing to the Disney book, "Disney's Magic Eye, Garfield's Magic Eye, Looney Toon's Magic Eye, and all of a sudden everybody's partners with Magic Eye." Currently in the works: a contract with Warner Brothers to do a Looney Toons book; an arrangement with Garfield; tentative deals with Ballantine Books to do two Star Wars books, and arrangements with Peanuts and Marvel comics.

Baccei is fairly confident that his business will survive fadship. …

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