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Mini Brands: Small but Huge

by Libby Berke

Is your home suddenly filled with products that appear to be for hamsters? Teensy bottles of Kikkoman™ soy sauce and Hawaiian Tropic™ sunscreen? Miniscule boxes of Hostess™  Twinkies® and Lipton™ ceylon black tea? Itsy-bitsy bags of Hormel™ crumbled bacon and Knorr™ Select® four cheese risotto? A micro Rubik’s Cube®? If so, you or a loved one may have discovered the craze of Mini Brands.

For the uninitiated, Mini Brands are the brainchild of a company called ZURU. Several other companies have now entered the mix, but ZURU leads the pack. Their main delivery system is The 5 Surprise Mini Brands capsule – a white plastic ball that opens to reveal five sealed compartments, each containing “realistic miniatures of the world’s most iconic and loved shopping brands.” MSRP for the capsules is $5.99, an easy price for a piggy-bank or an add-on purchase, but prices tend to vary quite a bit between retailers and go up online by resellers when scarce – which tends to happen regularly as collectors gobble them up.

My daughter (age 4) loves them. She uses them for her American Girl dolls so it’s not just generic cupcakes or ice cream, etc. I feel like we pick one up every time we’re at Target and for a four year old it helps with brand recognition. Some items, like the Warheads candies are a no go for us (I don’t see that ending very well), but others, like the Breyer’s ice cream she asks for.

Most, if not all, of the ZURU collaborations seem to come from licensing agreements. On, in a press release about a collaboration with Nickelodeon and other toy brands, Aneisha Vieira, global brand director, ZURU said “Our product development and licensing teams have worked closely to take some of the most iconic toy brands and shrink them to fit in your hand. The mini collectible trend is unwavering and we’re confident Toy Mini Brands will follow suit as one of the most in-demand products of the year.”

She was right. Mini Brands is taking consumer brand awareness to a whole new level.  Just some of the ways:

  • Type Mini Brands into YouTube or TikTok and prepare yourself for oodles of content created by consumers – and surprisingly by a lot of adults too. There are many “unboxing” videos and with the opening of each compartment, the buyer is calling out the name of the product and featuring it on camera close up, sometimes exclaiming things like “Tresseme! I love Tresseme – that’s my favorite shampoo!” Some do videos to show how they display their collections, and some even hack their Mini Brands to add real food to them. This video has garnered 2.7 million views so far. Videos are done both by independent fans and by influencers collaborating with ZURU.

  • There isn’t just one version of every brand  – Spam has cans of regular Spam, Spam lite, and Spam with 25% less sodium. Hormel chili comes with and without beans. The adorable Barbasol cans come in both original and soothing aloe. Not only does this create more collectibility and “swapability” for the consumer, but it creates more awareness of more of a brand’s product offerings.

  • There have been several issues of new sets – a new set usually comes out every six months or so with 70+ miniatures of grocery, drugstore, and toy brands spread among different mystery capsules. Similar to traditional trading cards, some of the offerings are more rare than others and some even come in a gold color or glow-in-the dark. Some even contain diy-build mini shopping carts and shelving units with SKUs to stick on.

So what can we learn from Mini Brands and carry over to our own products and services? Sure, you can go ahead and have someone make a mini version of your offering (other businesses even make mini beer cases and cigarette packs). But you can also consider the Mini Brand craze from other angles.

Make it Special – Do you have cool, interesting, inviting packaging? Hopefully your packaging is more sustainable than Mini Brands (those segmented capsules are a lot of plastic), but packaging has gotten much more cool and beautiful, especially as “unboxing videos” have taken over social media and have gazillions of views.

Make it Surprising – Much like the old school toy in a cereal box, consumers like good surprises. Maybe it’s a backup part like a replacement bulb. Maybe it’s an upgrade or extra product or extra value, a good coupon for a future purchase or a link to exclusive content. Maybe it’s as simple as a cool sticker or a personalized thank you note.

Consider Variety – Certain products and services should not be messed with. If you’ve got a good thing going it may not be wise to fiddle with it (see New Coke). But Coca-Cola has also had success with other versions of their products. Would different flavors, colors or sizes increase your brand awareness and loyalty or weaken it? Would regularly releasing new versions like Apple does with iPhones excite your customers or annoy them?

Make it Rare– This is a risky one but it’s happening more and more. Some rarity is authentic and some is completely manufactured. Lots of ads now urge “get it now before it sells out again.” We rarely hear how many sold out – it could have been a very small run. Sometimes that’s a wise and sustainable choice, and sometimes it also increases demand. Consider possibly doing special edition short runs – like a special color or collaboration.

Make it Sharable – Can you get others talking about your product? Reviewing it in written or a/v form? Can you get people to post on social channels about it? Is there a hashtag that makes it easy to find? Can you get different types of people to talk about various aspects of your product? Mini Brands partners with influencers to share content, but it is so inviting and mesmerizing that the number of unsponsored videos have exploded.

Someday, Mini Brands will be a “remember when” item. Folks collecting them now will find a few in their drawers in 2035 – a plastic Skippy jar still rolling around and a paper Jello box smushed and crinkled. With each one they pull out, they will be reminded not just of the craze, but of each and every brand. And for those companies that license with ZURU, the hope is that many of those brands will also be in their cabinets.

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