Hours of fun 'unboxing' this year's hot toy

ATLANTA • Everyone loves surprises. So, moments after hearing about the L.O.L. Surprise! Big Surprise on a Chicago radio station, Ms Crystal Lessner was on the hunt for the popular - and increasingly sold-out - toy.

But first, she had to figure out what it was. She logged onto YouTube, where a 24-minute "unboxing" video clued her in.

The US$69.99 (S$95) toy, she learnt, is quite simple. It is a glittery, dome-shaped plastic case filled with 50 surprises - four dolls, along with accessories, clothing, charms and other knick-knacks - that must be individually unwrapped.

It can take hours to peel away the layers and figure out what is inside.

"I knew it was going to be a challenge to find one," Ms Lessner, 36, said. "But I (wanted) to be a cool mum for the first time in my life."

L.O.L. Surprise! - which stands for Little Outrageous Little Surprise - dolls have become an unlikely blockbuster hit in an era of high-tech, movie-inspired toys.

The toy, which was released six weeks ago, is sold out online at Target, Walmart and Toys "R" Us, and is commanding 10 times its asking price on eBay.

In Singapore, it is available exclusively at Toys "R" Us outlets and through its website at www.toysrus. com.sg for $149.99.

The toy industry, insiders say, is one of the first to be inspired by and created for an era of YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat.

Executives at MGA Entertainment - a privately held California company behind hits such as Bratz, Lalaloopsy and Little Tikes - came up with the idea for L.O.L. dolls after seeing a proliferation of "unboxing" videos on YouTube.

These videos show people unpacking newly bought items, including figurines, chocolate eggs, coffee makers and iPhones.

"Frankly, we were seeing these videos everywhere and thought, why not just bring an unboxing toy to these kids," said Mr Issac Larian, 63, founder and chief executive of MGA. It is tapping the frenzy by making it easier for children to make their own unboxing videos.

It is setting up bright pink recording booths in 13 American cities, Toronto and London. Shoppers can buy the surprise and film themselves opening it.

Its message: You, too, could "become the next viral sensation". And there is something in it for MGA too.

Each video posted on YouTube or selfie shared on Instagram becomes an important part of the toy's marketing campaign.

"There was a time when you'd put your toy in a television commercial and watch sales surge two weeks later," Mr Larian said. "That era is over. Kids rarely watch television anymore - they're all on YouTube."

The original L.O.L. Surprise - a US$9.99 doll encased in seven layers of wrapping paper - quietly arrived in Target stores last year, just a couple of weeks before Christmas

There were no large-scale marketing efforts or television commercials, a first in MGA's 38-year history. Instead, executives thought they would discreetly test the waters before a larger release in January.

It turned out to be an instant hit, with all 500,000 dolls selling out in two months.

By January, L.O.L. Surprise! had become the country's top-selling doll, noted market research firm NPD Group. As of September, it remained in that position.

The company released a line of L.O.L. cats, dogs, rabbits and hamsters last week and has inked more than 30 licensing deals for items such as clothing, stationery and home decor that are scheduled to be in stores next spring.

"At MGA, we've had many big hits, but this is by far the biggest I've seen," Mr Larian said.

"A lot of times, we have products that work in the United States, but don't work in Germany or Russia or South Korea. The thing about the L.O.L. Surprise! is that it is in demand everywhere."

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2017, with the headline 'Hours of fun 'unboxing' this year's hot toy'. Print Edition | Subscribe