How Hatchimals became this year's toy craze

Every holiday season sees one toy that catches everyone's imagination and becomes a cultural phenomenon - PRWeek talks to the key players behind the marketing of 2016's toy sensation.

TORONTO:  Hatchimals are this season’s must-have toy, and the comms team behind it says its success all comes down to its mysterious launch.

Zeno Group has been PR AOR for Spin Master, the company behind Hatchimals, for two years.  The first phase of promoting Hatchimals – a toy bird that hatches from a shell - began at toy fairs in New York, London, and Nuremberg early in the year. But the brand decided to go about the launch in an unorthodox way.

"When toys launch at New York Toy Fair, typically everyone can learn about them and see them," said Anne Yourt, VP, Zeno Group Canada. "But these Hatchimals were under lock and key, almost literally. At that time, there was only one photo that was seeded to a news outlet of the egg, but there was nothing revealed about what was inside."

Zeno worked closely with the Spin Master team to make sure they could communicate teaser material from a PR perspective. That led into a prelaunch wave of media relations, influencer work, and support for a global launch on October 7 for what the company named Hatchimals Day.

"There has been this inherent curiosity about Hatchimals," said Tara Tucker, VP global marketing communications, Spin Master. "For a lot of toys, what you see is what you get. But Hatchimals are slightly mysterious and something kids want to discover. That’s where the whole idea came about for our approach to marketing."

In late August, Spin Master started working with different partners, such as Nickelodeon. The company crowd sourced and created custom activities that lived on Nickelodeon.com, where users could interact with a digital Hatchimal egg. Users were asked: What will hatch?

Spin Master crowd sourced the answers and created a series of vignettes, revealing what was inside the Hatchimal.

Retailers were told to leave shelves bare where the Hatchimals would be. Custom shelves were designed with signs that said, "See what’s hatching October 7," said Tucker.

"One store in California stocked a little early and a Hatchimal got into the hands of one consumer who started posting the hatch on Instagram," said Tucker. "We asked her to take it down and she complied. So this mystery was really building."

Another leak occurred in Russia, where a consumer got hold of Hatchimals footage and put it online. Again, Spin Master reps called the person and had them remove it.

On October 7, Hatchimals partnered with YouTube influencer Toys AndMe, who created two videos and posted them on the big reveal day. The videos have since generated over 9 million views combined.

Spin Master also teamed up with Another YouTube influencer, FUNnel Vision, a family of six, which has garnered just under 7 million views to its video, to date.

Spin Master and Zeno identified influencers by looking at the target market for Hatchimals and researching carefully who had the right type of audience.

"It wasn’t just about overall subscribers, but also the kind of engagement they have and their personalities – are they well suited to the brand?" said Tucker.

Yourt added that influencer outreach demonstrated the product is for girls and boys.

"Even in our own YouTube videos, we showed children around the world, their expressions when they first saw the egg and when it started to hatch," said Tucker. "That resonated, because we showed kids from many different backgrounds in different countries interacting with the Hatchimal."

Zeno Group helped facilitate earned media, interviews, aided with getting samples into the right hands, fielding questions, and providing assets to the media.

CNN Money was one of the first outlets to reveal the Hatchimal on October 7. Others that covered the toy included Parents Magazine, Good Housekeeping, the Today show, The View, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BuzzFeed, Daily Mail, and The Guardian.

Yourt noted that a main aim with media outreach was to ensure Hatchimals were contenders for media outlets’ gift guides.

"We started pre-seeding with some media, but we were very selective about who we shared info with under embargo, because the stakes were so high around Hatchimals Day," said Yourt. "It was one of the first times someone from a high-profile magazine sent me an email with exclamation marks saying, ‘I was hoping to get one of these today!’"

As the craze for the product grew, Zeno Group stayed on top of media requests and made sure it was getting information out.

"The media outreach was special because it didn’t live in isolation," said Tucker. "It was a fully integrated launch plan. Every aspect, including TV, paid digital, sponsorship integrations, and retailer events, worked in concert with our earned media outreach and influencer engagement. They all played together in a strong integrated campaign."

The main challenge for Spin Master now is getting the product into as many hands as possible, pre-holiday – especially as many stores are sold out. They are scarcely found online or at retailers, and consumers are lining up for hours to get their hands on one, driving up to 15 hours and even enlisting the help of friends and family to get their hands on one.

"We’re getting many calls, emails, and enquiries on our social media channels, so our main aim is letting them know product is arriving daily," said Tucker.

Spin Master is also giving away as many Hatchimals as it can, "surprising and delighting" consumers via Hatchimals’ social media channels and website.

"We’re also donating several thousand in different countries to children who are disadvantaged or displaced from their homes, to give them the opportunity to have that excitement and connection with their Hatchimal," said Tucker.

Tucker said the toy has become this year’s cultural phenomenon because of the nature of the product and the fact children can develop a connection with it, which can be empowering.

She noted the toy comes to life and develops dependent on how much it is played with. "From a parent’s perspective, you are really happy your kid is going back and playing with a toy multiple times," Tucker said.

The mystery element of the launch also played a big part in helping with the craze, building up the public’s excitement and curiosity for the product, Tucker said.

As for the future, she added: "We are hatching a plan. You can count on it being as innovative and entertaining as everything you have seen so far."

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