Similar to the likes of Pokemon that sprang from the screens of early handheld gaming systems to television, cinemas and shop windows, so too are hit toys outgrowing the toy shelves and building franchises across entertainment and merchandising. Here, Jack Ridsdale examines how the collectable toymakers are building franchises
When Moose Toys’ CEO Paul Solomon pitched the concept for Shopkins in 2010, the world of licensed toys was stronger than ever. With the likes of Toy Story 3, Tangled, Despicable Me and even the final Harry Potter films gracing cinema screens, there was no shortage of strong franchises lining the toy shelves. However, the idea of growing a multi-platform franchise out of a toy line was still taboo. Like putting cart before the horse, kickstarting a multimedia franchise with phys- ical products was at worst seen as a backwards way of doing things and at best, an unproven concept that with some misplaced investments could easily end in disaster.
Now seven years on, Shopkins are a household name. Everyone from high street toy shops to supermarkets are scrabbling to obtain enough stock to satisfy Christmas demand, meanwhile the beloved brand is making inroads into children’s entertainment with webisodes, DVDs and even stage shows.
The multimedia power of the brand cannot be understated, with the webisode series that was distributed via YouTube racking up a staggering 224 million views and over six million user-generated videos featuring the brand also appearing on the platform.
“Shopkins initially launched through a series of shorts on YouTube which at the time was a pioneering move,” explains Paul Solomon.
“It was the first time a toy brand chose to take a YouTube first approach rather than use a traditional TV series to tell the stories of their original characters.”
The unique world that Moose built around Shopkins has been key to its success, allowing youngsters to immerse themselves in the colourful world of the collectable toys.
“Bringing the brand to entertainment was a natural progression,” elaborates Solomon. “Shopkins was developed with a storytelling approach in mind as we know that is what resonates most with our core consumer.
Shopkins was always devised and developed with a storytelling approach in mind
Paul Solomon, Moose Toys
“The world of Shopville was imagined in conjunction with the development of the toy line and having hero characters was a priority from season one. Once these characters and their distinct personalities had been defined, it felt appropriate for the toy line to extend out into entertainment.”
This year’s Brand Licensing Expo saw no shortage of toy brands roaming the halls of Olympia, notably collectable brands including
the likes of MGA’s L.O.L. Surprise who may well be realising the value of bringing their brands to new platforms.
LIMA’s Kelvyn Gardner, is another to recognise this growing licensing effort in the world of toys. Explaining the unprecedented appeal of collectable toys, Gardner explains a shift in thinking around the category.
“Collectables are an age-old hobby for kids,” begins Gardner. “Now you’ve got nostalgia because you have two or three generations that have collected. The other things is that collecting is about social interaction with other kids physically, and while parents are worried about screens- smartphones, tablets, computers, video games- they see kids going out and collecting these things with their mates as more of a positive thing for kids to do.”
“That’s a full circle thing, no one could have made that connection happen. It just has, and into that have come LEGO, Character Options and of course, the Shopkins from Moose.”
Another toy franchise that has built a solid foundation in the collectables space is Zomlings from Magic Box Toys. Having built a successful franchise from the ground-up that has come to encompass magazines, webisodes, games and more, the firm is now drawing the line to a close and looking to take what they've learned to a new creation.
“Zomlings has been a really important experience for Magic Box Toys,” Zomlings creator Ben Harper, told ToyNews.
“We have been able to create a wide range of SKUs within pocket money prices and this is certainly a path that we will continue to follow with new projects. We have learnt many lessons about what is and isn’t collectable and how to shape a range to suit the market and the consumer. Zomlings has also helped us to develop a much wider range of SKUs, particularly those at higher points aimed specifically
at the toy market. Again, this is something that will continue to develop with new projects, such as SuperZings which launches in January.”
Magic Box’s new line, named SuperZings cashes in on the superhero trend which currently dominates the box office with a cast of colourful characters to rival any comic book series. SuperZing’s focus will stretch from marketing and advertising efforts to digital content targeted towards youngsters in the near future.
“We have produced high quality websites, apps and webisodes for products over the past few years, including Zomlings,” explains Harper.
“We have also expanded our advertising reach into many digital formats. This will certainly continue in the future and our next project, SuperZings, will launch with a huge and diverse marketing campaign. This will include some excellent webisodes to introduce the characters and storylines.”
With the engrossing world of collectables, capturing the hearts and minds of kids all across the world, don’t expect these ambitious firms to be the last to go this route with their toy lines, as they expand and diversify their offerings.