Now more than ever before, it’s crucial to keep up with the ways that kids consume content, and IMC Toys is constantly keeping its pulse on what’s new.
The toy company behind Cry Babies and VIP Pets launched the Cry Babies Magic Tears app last month — already amassing more than 350,000 downloads; has 2 billion views and 4 million worldwide subscribers on its Kitoons content network, which is available in more than 15 languages; and a robust social media presence on Tik Tok and Instagram. All of these social and digital elements are tied into its products and brands that are family names in Europe and increasingly popular in North America after launching in the U.S. just over two years ago.
The Toy Book caught up with Karen Branson, country manager for IMC Toys in the U.S. and Canada about the new Cry Babies Magic Tears app, strategies about turning brands into 360-degree play experiences, and staying relevant in today’s world.
Toy Book: IMC Toys launched in North America two years ago. How have your brands grown since 2018?
Karen Branson: Over the past two years, we’ve seen exceptional growth. Our evergreen brand Cry Babies launched in the market with only five dolls. Since then, we’ve welcomed 10 new characters along with special edition top sellers, such as the Cry Babies Get Sick & Feels Better line and the Cry Babies Goodnight Coney doll, which, according to The NPD Group, debuted No. 6 in the category in August! We have also seen Cry Babies rise to the top of the SF Nurturing Dolls in 2020, holding the No. 1 spot year to date through August! Cry Babies Magic Tears has also had a remarkable consumer response since launch, selling more than 500,000 units year to date. The beloved surprise dolls’ classic bottle house is now in its third iteration — maintaining excitement among fans. With these beloved collectibles, IMC Toys is building out a strong foundation for expanding product offering and market presence for years to come.
Seeing how the market embraced the world of Cry Babies Magic Tears, we were super excited to launch our latest collectible VIP Pets this fall. The line has been a breakout success and we couldn’t be more thrilled. Supported by a multi-million-dollar content strategy, our initial retail quantities sold out quickly and have created a great amount of demand as we continue into peak season.
TB: Last month, IMC Toys launched the Cry Babies Magic Tears app. What went behind the decision to make this digital component available to consumers, and what has the response been so far?
KB: We love content at IMC and anything that will help bring an immersive experience to our fans! The Cry Babies Magic Tears app allows users to interact with their favorite Cry Babies like never before. Children can take care of their favorite characters, play games, and watch full episodes from the animated series. It’s imperative for us to integrate behavioral shifts into our product development and overall strategies; as screen-time increases, so does the need for our brand’s presence within the digital space. In just over a month, the app has had more than 350,000 total downloads! The feedback from consumers and their parents have shown us how loyal our fans have become.
TB: How do your content strategies for your brands differ between platforms but remain cohesive for your fans, such as your Kitoons animated content and social media like TikTok and Instagram?
KB: Our approach to product development is to build imaginative worlds for each brand, and with that formula, creating content becomes an organic progression. Our brands like Cry Babies and VIP Pets become successful across all platforms from animated or real-life content on Kitoons to social media. We carefully portray different layers of that unique world while integrating the norms most prevalent on each specific platform. We’re able to get creative and stay true to the brand voice.
VIP Pets have a quirky, girl squad, fashionista persona, so our TikTok content reflects fun trends like makeup challenges or viral songs that will resonate with our tween demographic.
TB: How do these interactive experiences enhance the way kids interact with your brands?
KB: All of our brand interactions contribute to a 360-degree experience and heighten each product’s play value. When kids see our animated series or engage with social content, we’re connecting with their imagination and encouraging further excitement for the physical product. Through these multiple touchpoints, kids are also able to easily recognize and seek out dynamic characters with who they resonate.
TB: IMC Toys is no stranger to making collectibles and just launched VIP Pets. What are some of the key components behind a successful collectible line like this one?
KB: Several components contribute to a successful launch. Building unique character personalities that kids can identify with and pairing the product with relevant content will help to generate an organic connection with its consumers.
When we designed VIP Pets, it was important for us to develop original content with strong characters. From there, we developed a line of collectible toys that stay true to the content while surprising and delighting the consumer with a new take on collectible hair play.
We invested in creative storytelling and shifted marketing strategies to stay on trend and relevant — bringing our content to where kids are engaged. The VIP Pets world is portrayed through an animated and live-action digital series on YouTube, which are then adapted for TikTok and Instagram. Leveraging viral songs and platform practices have helped us surpass over 100,000 views on multiple posts!
TB: How do you keep in touch with your consumers to make products that are relevant to them?
KB: To stay relevant, you always have to be listening, and you always have to be learning. We keep a very close pulse on what’s new, what’s exciting, and how consumer behaviors are shifting. We identify market trends, evaluate how we can deliver innovative ideas, and consider consumer sentiment on social media.
TB: What advice would you give to companies that are looking to elevate their brand presence across various platforms?
KB: For brands looking into digital or social platforms, I’d advise them to have fun with it! Don’t shy from trends, embrace them, and find an exciting way to integrate them while telling a cohesive brand story.
TB: IMC Toys has offices worldwide and does most of its product development overseas. What are the advantages of your global presence?
KB: Our evergreen brands like Cry Babies and Cry Babies Magic Tears are household names throughout Europe and Asia. These brands have genuinely connected and succeeded in many diverse markets simultaneously, meaning our teams have become fantastic at adapting social norms and communicating with local markets. For our North American launch, we were able to apply insights gained from previous successes and build a very specific new-to-market strategy that will appeal to our target demographic.
TB: What are your plans and goals moving forward as we head into 2021?
KB: 2021 is going to be another fantastic year! We’re developing and extending into different categories beyond the baby doll and collectible space. These new soon-to-be fan favorites will be accompanied by the same high-quality content and multifaceted marketing efforts that our current fans enjoy. Stay tuned!
TB: Tell us about IMC Toys’ Kitoons content network.
KB: IMC Toys’ own content network on YouTube, Kitoons, has seen an incredible year! Kitoons hosts each brand’s (Cry Babies Magic Tears, Bloopies, and VIP Pets) animated and/or live-action series, TVCs, and live product plays updated on a weekly basis. Available in more than 15 languages, Kitoons has 2.2 billion views, 4.3 million subscribers, and over 66 million unique views!
The channel is a key launch strategy to tease new releases, familiarize audiences with the product characters and their play patterns, and market extensions. Engaged audiences are also considered a tool to gauge consumer interest. It’s a real added value as we can see which videos resonate the most with consumers while giving fans a more immersive experience with our products.