Travelocity's gnome continues to roam, as the travel site has sold more than 20,000 of its 8-inch gnome statues at $19.99 a pop. Last month it added an 18-inch version for $64.95.

Both companies, while pleased with the incremental sales of these tchotchkes, are absolutely elated by the fact that their brand icons have gained cultural currency—a marketer's dream. "Bringing a brand to life where people are working or living makes it all the more powerful," said Craig Connelly, president of GMR Marketing in Milwaukee. "It brings a real life flavor to it. It's another form of interaction that an ad alone can't do."

While its impossible to generate the return-on-investment of a gnome, having consumers actively purchase a constant reminder of its brand has helped Travelocity.com separate itself from a pack of online travel sites.

What's more, "We didn't expect it to be a profit center. We thought if we could just cover the costs of producing them that would be fine," said Deborah Italiano, vp-marketing at Travelocity.com, San Francisco. "Now we're making hundreds of thousands of dollars in profit."

Consumer fervor for such novelty items is just part of a growing appetite for licensed goods overall. The bigger value, however, is in the viral marketing effect such items have had. Brand icons have gained cultural currency - a marketer's dream.

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