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How POP MART leveraged co-branding to dominate China’s blind box toys market

POP MART (泡泡玛特) is a popular cultural entertainment brand in China that specializes in selling blind boxes. Founded in 2010, the company has become a leader in the designer toy market in China. In the first half of 2022, the company’s revenue was 2.4 billion RMB (349 million USD), up 33.1% year on year. Although the company may be perceived as a brand for children, its primary target audience is young women, typically students or white-collar workers, aged between 16 and 28 years old. Currently, the Beijing-based blind box toys brand runs 295 stores and 1,611 robot stores in mainland China.

POP Mart in China
Graph Source: LEADER, designed by daxue consulting, Age distribution of PM consumers in China in 2021

POP MART’s meteoric rise among the growing Chinese toy market

The designer toy market in China has experienced significant growth in the last few years. According to Wang Ning, the founder of POP MART, the trend started in Hong Kong in the 1990s and was influenced by Japan, South Korea, and the West in the 2000s.

On December 11 2020, the blind box toys brand launched its Initial Public Offering (IPO) at 38.5 HKD (4.91 USD). By the end of the day, the brand’s share value had doubled to 77.1 HKD (9.8 USD), breaking the record for best debutant for deals over 500 USD in Hong Kong. In just ten years after opening its first store in Beijing, the brand rose to the top with a market share of 8.5%.

What is a blind box, and why is it trending in China?

Blind boxes are designed to be identical on the outside but have unique minifigures inside, each one created by a different designer or artist. A character series usually consists of 12 different styles, with each package containing 12 figurines and each carton containing 12 packages, resulting in 144 figurines per carton. Moreover, each carton just includes one special minifigure out of the 144 blind boxes. This motivates many blind box enthusiasts to continue purchasing until they complete their collections. As the content of each box is unpredictable, some collectors may buy all 144 blind boxes at once.

While the price of 69 RMB (10.04 USD) per box may seem high for small plastic figurines, it is still reasonable enough for collectors to purchase them repeatedly. The first half of 2022 saw SKULLPANDA, MOLLY, and DIMOO emerge as best-selling minifigures in the Chinese blind box market, with revenues of 462 million RMB (67 million USD), 404 million RMB (59 million USD), and 298 million RMB (43 million USD), respectively.

POP MART in China
Image Source: Taobao, Best-selling blind boxes, mostly priced at 69 RMB each

Marketing strategy: Co-branding with popular brands

Co-branding is a powerful tool for designer toy brands because it can help them expand their customer base, increase brand awareness, and create unique products that stand out from competitors.

POP MART has made significant efforts to establish IP collaborations with popular designers and brands to appeal to Chinese consumers. By partnering with renowned designers like Kenny, Bi Qi, and Long Jiasheng, the Beijing-based toy brand has released unique and innovative products that capitalize on hunger marketing tactics. In addition, POP MART has collaborated with world-famous brands to create fashionable IPs that resonate with young consumers. These exciting and trendy activities have generated significant interest among the younger demographic, resulting in successful cross-brand collaborations.

The perfect match: POP MART x Lenovo Xiaoxin

One successful co-branding case involves POP MART and Lenovo Xiaoxin, a famous computer brand in China. In March 2021, they held the Designer Toy Culture Ceremony, where Lenovo Xiaoxin released its new icon, and launched its first limited-edition blind box with POP MART. Although operating in different sectors, the two brands have some connection with each other. Lenovo Xiaoxin’s brand concept of being “young people’s fashion partner” and the Chinese toys retailer’s mission “to light up passion and bring joy” have a lot in common and highlight the two companies’ goal to offer a happier and more enjoyable experience.

POP MART in China
Image Source: Baidu, Designer Toy Culture Ceremony co-hosted by PM and Lenovo Xiaoxin

Limited-edition KFC×DIMOO blind boxes

Another example worth mentioning is its partnership with KFC. In 2022, to celebrate the 35th anniversary of KFC in China, the Beijing-based toys brand released a limited series of blind boxes called KFC×DIMOO. The series included 6 regular figurines and a special one, with a total of 263,880 copies produced. Consumers who purchased the DIMOO Combo at KFC from January 4th to February 22nd, 2022, received one random figurine from the series. To complete the full set, customers needed to purchase at least six DIMOO Combos, and the chances of finding the special figurine were only 1 in 72. Consumers didn’t hesitate to spend 10,494 RMB (1,527.2 USD) to buy 106 DIMOO and have more chances to get the full set. Additionally, some even hired “eating agents” to get the blind boxes.

POP MART in China
Image Source: Weibo, KFC × DIMOO poster

Controversies surrounding blind box marketing in China

Despite being popular among consumers, the POP MART x KFC collaboration sparked controversy as some customers hired “eating agents” and paid exorbitant prices to obtain the figurines. This drew criticism from Chinese authorities, who saw it as an extreme form of hunger marketing that encouraged impulsive buying and food waste.

Moreover, the quality of blind box toys has become a serious concern in China. In a Blind Box Consumption Survey report released by the Sichuan Consumer Rights and Interests Commission in 2022, more than three-quarters of the 1,425 respondents reported quality problems in the products they bought, and four out of five respondents claimed experiencing obstacles when trying to return or exchange them.

The secrets behind POP MART’s marketing strategy

  • POP MART is a top blind box toys brand whose main consumer group consists of urban white-collar employees and students aged between 16 and 28 years old, with the majority being female.
  • The brand has shown that co-branding can be a critical marketing strategy when done well. In China’s fiercely competitive market, collaborating with established brands is crucial to reach new customers and capture their interest.
  • To stand out from the crowd and attract young consumers, POP MART cooperated with some world-famous brands including Lenovo Xiaoxin and KFC, resulting in a successful brand collaboration.
  • However, the KFC campaign and the low quality of blind box toys in China have drawn criticism towards the brand.

Author: Lyu Ai

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