Hatchimals may seem like they became this holiday season’s "it-toy" overnight, with everyone from CNBC to Forbes to Huffington Post writing about the frenzy to find them. But the Furby-esque stuffed animal, which children coax out of an egg with 30-plus minutes of nuzzling, didn’t come out of nowhere. Launched globally on Oct. 7th, Hatchimals is the result of some pretty ingenious marketing, and comes from a company with a long track record of generating buzz. Here are 5 things marketers need to know about the craze.
1. Hatchimals are made by Spin Master, the marketing genius behind Build-a-Bear, Air Hogs and Paw Patrol
Marketing toys is a science all its own, and few companies can say they’ve cracked the code like Canadian-based Spin Master. Founded by three college buddies in 1994, Spin Master got its start selling toys like Bakugan Battle Brawlers and Air Hogs out of colorful vans traveling the Canadian countryside. For its 2006 smash product, Moon Sand, the company had the novel idea of using late-night direct-response ads to target parents, using a message of portability and easy cleanup.
Today, the company has come a long way from its roots as an indie manufacturer. Through aggressive licensing deals, it now holds the rights to classic toys like Etch a Sketch and Popples. Spin Master has also created hit television shows around its products, like Paw Patrol, and is now the global master toy licensee of the Cartoon Network, and the aforementioned ‘80s favorite Popples, which reemerged in 2015 on Netflix.
For years, the company eschewed ad agencies and TV spots in favor of grassroots marketing efforts, though that has changed as it’s grown. In 2015, the company tapped The Variable to be its creative AOR, and spent $32.5 million on advertising.
2. Demand is sky-high because Spin Master is artificially limiting supply
When frantic parents in search of Hatchimals visit the toy’s website, they’re greeted with a pop-up message that essentially says to check back in 2017: "This is a special season and we don’t want anyone to be disappointed, nor do we support inflated prices from non-authorized resellers. We are working on creative solutions to help kids and their parents withstand the wait." In the interim, parents can get on waitlists for January, which we’re sure will silent children’s screams that their parents are the wooooorst.
Just how did Spin Master let this happen? If it officially doesn’t condone $200-plus mark-ups of its $60-$70 product, didn’t it plan for the holiday rush? Of course it did. According to The New York Times, the toymaker is known for limiting supply to create a frenzy for its products, which means that if consumers want a Hatchimal before Dec. 25, they’re going to have to shell out a few hundred dollars.
3. The majority of the reviews on Amazon are negative, 1-star critiques
But is a Hatchimal worth it? Not if consumers trust Amazon reviews. Buyers claim that the toys take too long to hatch. One woman even said she gave birth to her human child quicker than it took this robotic toy to peck its way out of its shell. Others said that their Hatchimals never hatched or were "dead" when they did break free. On the flip side, reviewers said Spin Master’s customer service is top-notch, which may be needed if these defects continue through Christmas.
4. Toys "R" Us and Target sell exclusive Hatchimals
Consumers searching for the "Owlicorn" (that’s an owl/unicorn combo) and "Bearakeet" (bear/parakeet) Hatchimals need not go to official retailers Kmart, Amazon or Walmart. These toys are exclusive to Toys "R" Us and Target respectively (but now can be found everywhere through third-party resellers), demonstrating the strategy behind this launch. The two retailers knew that Hatchimals would be such a success, they opted for exclusive lines.
5. Here come the knock-offs!
Like a purse branded "Channel" instead of "Chanel," coveted toys inspire their own imitations. Not long after Spin Master released Hatchimals, Fuzzy Wonderz emerged online. Parenting site Romper says Fuzzy Wonderz are the Pepsi to Hatchimal’s Coke. Like Hatchimal, Fuzzy Wonderz hatches from eggs (although less shiny ones) but in less time than its competition, and it sells at a similar price point—$59.99—with free, two-day shipping and a two-week, money-back guarantee. But one parenting blog’s research into the toy’s parent company came up inconclusive, so as with any knockoff, buyers beware—unless the risk of losing $59.99 is less scary than facing a tearful child on Christmas.