Dunk a satchel into a mug of water and watch as clouds billow through the liquid, swirling and dancing as the contents of the bag steep into the water. No, you’re not making a fresh cup of oolong to soothe the soul — you’re unboxing a Kitten Catfe Purrista Girl, a collectible toy from Jakks Pacific. This is one of many hot, new collectibles that incorporate water-reveal elements into the unboxing experience.
Collectibles made up 12% of all toy sales in the 12 months ended this January, but after several years of strong growth, overall sales decreased 5% last year, according to The NPD Group. Just when you thought the collectibles aisle was getting stale, the brains behind the toys doubled down on a key ingredient: water.
Just Add Water
The Toy Association unveiled “H2O Play” as one of six new trends to watch out for at Toy Fair New York in February. The trend covers unboxing and surprise collectibles that use water to expose a hidden message, color, character, or other surprise features — making water the catalyst in the unboxing experience.
Why are so many manufacturers adding the water-reveal feature to their collectibles? “Water is easy to use, it is readily available, and from a mess standpoint, it is easy to clean up, making it more ‘mom-approved’ than some of the compound reveals out there,” says Adrienne Appell, The Toy Association’s senior director of strategic communications.
Skyrocket was ahead of the game when it launched the first wave of Blume dolls — collectible dolls that bloom out of flower pots when kids activate the “soil” with water — last year. The company is continuing to bank on the water trend with Blume Fun in the Sun dolls, which also grow out of flower pots when kids water them, but with new features added, such as squishier, color-changing hair. Using water in the unboxing process adds a magical twist to the typical unwrapping procedure.
This new reveal trend also yields exciting social media content for kids and influencers to post. “The water definitely adds a fun layer to the [viewing] element and becomes a part of the marketing,” says Skyrocket Vice President of Marketing Lindsey Scheftic. The interactive nature of the water reveal boosts social media engagement and creates free exposure for the manufacturers.
This fall, Basic Fun! is launching a new line of collectible dolls that combine water and hair play, called CurliGirls. “Adding any kind of experience to collectibles makes the on-screen unboxing more exciting and the at-home reveal that much more fun. It may even help to introduce new types of influencer- and user-generated content,” says Basic Fun! Head of Brand Development Ashley Mady.
The dolls feature MagiCurl hair that curls into ringlets when kids give it a tug. Kids can change the hairstyle as many times as they want by dipping the hair in warm water to instantly straighten it again, boosting the play value of the toy. “Water is a tool for limitless play and, in this case, total transformation,” Mady says. The way in which CurliGirls incorporates water into hair styling makes kids less focused on the one-time novelty of the reveal and more focused on the total play experience.
As more toymakers are going with the flow, they are also starting to think outside the box, evolving the water element into new play patterns. Toys such as Kitten Catfe Purrista Girls, Moose Toys’ Shopkins Real Littles, and Spin Master’s Uni-Verse are just a few of the new products that include a vanishing act of sorts. The packaging is designed in such a way that it disappears when kids add water.
The Kitten Catfe Purrista Girls toys are cat- and cafe-themed collectibles packaged inside a to-go coffee or teacup. There are multiple mystery packets inside, including a tea bag that dissolves in cold water to reveal a surprise number of collectible “Meowbles” kittens.
“The dissolving tea bag adds a fun level of play in that instead of just ripping open another bag or container, kids get to actively control the reveal,” says Jakks Pacific Senior Vice President Jill Nordquist. “Further, there is something fun and satisfying about dipping the bag just as you would with a real tea bag.”
Traditionally, manufacturers used the water feature to activate a color change in the product, Nordquist explains. Now, some toy companies are taking it to the next level. “Kids are still very interested in unboxing and surprises. However, their expectations for delivery systems (i.e., how the magic is delivered) have increased. Kids want various ways to reveal surprises: unwrapping, unboxing, using codes, dissolving, etc. … As kids’ expectations for reveals increase, manufacturers are forced to rethink ways of delivering magic,” she says.
Uni-Verse is a whimsical new line that mixes the magic of rainbows, unicorns, and clouds. When kids dunk the fluffy, emoji-inspired cloud into warm water, it dissolves into a slimy, colored goo that disguises a unicorn figure and accessories. This year, Mattel also launched a cloud-themed collection called Cloudees. The collectible initially resembles a fluffy cloud that kids can place inside the cloud-shaped case with water. As kids shake the water-filled case, the collectible’s covering will break apart into pieces of cloud fluff that kids can sift through to find a pet character and accessories.
While those collections are entirely new for Spin Master and Mattel, other companies are using the water-reveal trend to make a splash with more established brands. Earlier this year, Moose Toys launched Shopkins Real Littles Mini Packs: tiny versions of real frozen food brands. They differ from the original Shopkins Real Littles collectibles in that these are packaged inside of a box that is inside of an “ice bag” that kids can dunk into water and swish around. The box melts away to reveal two Shopkins.
Moose Toys linked the water play to the theme of the Shopkins line. “This season of Shopkins Real Littles is a frozen theme, so it only seemed fitting that the mini versions of your favorite frozen supermarket brands — such as Popsicle, Good Humor, Klondike, Breyers ice creams, Marie Callender’s pie, and Morningstar Farms frozen foods — literally melt out of the packaging,” says Shopkins Brand Manager Mallory Van Laeken.
My Little Pony is another well-known brand, with no shortage of toys depicting the colorful, cartoon ponies. Hasbro put its spin on typical blind bags with the My Little Pony Magical Potion Surprise Blind Bags. The collectibles are packaged inside a tea-bag-like pouch, which comes inside a potion-bottle-shaped blind pack. Kids can fill the pack with water and shake it to dissolve the pouch, exposing 1.5-inch, mystery My Little Pony characters.
Sustainability Is Key
Not only is dissolvable packaging exciting for kids to unbox, but it also creates less waste. With the My Little Pony toy, the inner packaging (the pouch) dissolves, and kids can use the outer packaging (the potion bottle) as a storage case for the figures.
This is significant as parents become more dedicated to finding environmentally friendly options for their households. “Some of the products we are seeing do fall into the sustainability trend because the packaging literally melts away in the water, making it appealing to families looking for more eco-friendly solutions to packaging,” Appell says.
Sustainability is so top of mind for some toy manufacturers that Nordquist even cites it as a source of inspiration behind the Kitten Catfe Purrista Girls. “We wanted to provide kids with a fun reveal while also maintaining a level of sustainability. By having the tea bag dissolve, versus having something that gets thrown away, we were able to minimize waste while maximizing the fun,” Nordquist says. “Additionally, there is something magical to seeing one thing disappear while another thing appears.”
Shoppers can consider it an added bonus that this trendy component doesn’t add much to the cost — all of the collectibles mentioned cost less than $10, and the My Little Pony collectibles are as low as $2.99. Using water as a key ingredient to transform the toy helps keep collectibles affordable, safe for kids to use, and easy for parents to clean.
As the water-reveal trend evolves, dissolvable play keeps the collectibles category afloat.
This article originally appeared in the April/May 2020 issue of the Toy Book. Click here to read more!