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How YouTube Influencer Marketing Created 2017's Toy of the Year
Connecting with the right online video stars helps sell a product. Here's how WowWee's savvy YouTube campaign made Fingerlings a breakout hit.

WowWee’s robots have gotten cuter. In 2004, the toy company had a hit with Robosapien, a hulking robot that could be programmed via remote control. In 2014, it put out MiP, a more rounded ‘bot that balanced on two wheels.

But why does a robot need to look like a robot? Why couldn’t it look like, say, a monkey?

WowWee’s Fingerlings were the hot toy of the 2017 holiday season, but their genesis started a year-and-a-half before. Sydney Wiseman, a brand manager for the company, saw a post on a social media account showing a pygmy marmoset monkey clinging to a person’s finger. The adorable image went viral, and Wiseman saw potential for a toy. She shared the idea with Davin Sufer, WowWee’s CTO, as well as the research and development team, and the Fingerlings were born.

WowWee’s strength is that it can deliver interactive robots at a fair price. Its weakness, prior to this, is that its robots were only a hit with a niche audience. But with Fingerlings, WowWee found what it had been missing—a robotic toy with mass appeal. The line sold for $15 each, putting it in the impulse-purchase area. Fingerlings debuted with six adorable models in different colors (one lavender model was named Sydney for their creator), and from the start they were popular with both boys and girls. Fingerlings have 40 different actions and respond when touched or spoken to. Once in a while, they even fart. WowWee clearly knows its audience.

The original line debuted in August 2017, on a day the company called Fingerlings Friday. Sensing that it had something special to offer, the company planned a debut event that would get it noticed. These days, that means using YouTube, influencers, and social media.

WowWee’s brand management team started by determining which influencers they wanted to work with, making a list that included Mackenzie Ziegler, JacyandKacy, and ForEverAndForAva. While these young celebs might be unknown to most people, they have enormous audiences online. As of this writing, Ziegler has 2.4 million YouTube subscribers, Jacy and Kacy have 2.5 million, and Everleigh and Ava have 1.1 million.

Simply working with popular YouTubers isn’t enough, however. To really launch a product, companies need viewers to help spread the message. To do that, WowWee created a fun event for influencers and viewers alike to take part in. That event included banana piñatas.

“We really wanted to create shareability,” explains Tiffany Kayar, communications manager for WowWee. “So, to optimize that word-of-mouth and that shareability so that we could reach all these different core audiences, we didn’t just want kids to watch an unboxing and then say, ‘Oh, OK, that’s cool,’ or to watch a review and say, ‘Oh, OK, that’s neat,’ but we really wanted them to feel like they were a part of it. So we took the people that they look up to the most and gave them a very interactive experience: Instead of doing a traditional unboxing, we wanted to do a piñata ‘unbashing.’ So then that way it was kind of fun, it was cute, it was very within the line of how the brand look and feel is, and how the world of the Fingerlings that they’re in is definitely very silly and whimsical. We wanted audiences to feel like they could be a part of that, that silly world with the unbashing, and we had them share a picture to enter a contest to win their own banana piñata.”

Shopping for Influencers

For Fingerlings Friday, WowWee worked with about 10 influencers, ranging from little kids to tweens. It threw in a few adults, as well, such as those on The Mommy and Gracie Show. WowWee doesn’t see working with influencers as a one-off event, so it tries to keep a relationship going with favorite creators. The company prefers working with influencers directly, rather than through an agency, and having an ongoing relationship means both sides learn and develop together. But WowWee also tries to keep it diverse and work with a range of agencies.

For the launch of Fingerlings, WowWee wanted an untraditional unboxing, so it paired with YouTube influencers for an “unbashing.” Here, YouTuber Mackenzie Ziegler (right) and friend Lauren Orlando bust a banana piñata.

When starting a new campaign, WowWee first creates a brief that explains the concept and what the company is going for. This includes the context the company wants to create and the messaging it wants to put across. The team touches base with prospective partners and asks if they’re familiar with WowWee, and gets a feel for their channels and their passions. The finished campaign has to feel organic to each influencer’s channel, so finding a good match is crucial.

While working months ahead of time is the ideal, Kayar admits that she rarely has the luxury of that kind of time. Her team needs to stay flexible and respond to online trends.

Working with online influencers is a balancing act. The WowWee team members had to be careful to put across the key messages they wanted in the videos and the features they’d like shown. They wanted the videos to say where people could buy the toys and where they could look for more information. They provided imagery to use for inspiration, showing what their ideal campaigns would look like. But they also needed to respect the influencers’ own creativity and knowledge of their audience. The final videos were up to each channel. WowWee asked that they all debut on the same day, but left the actual posting time up to each creator. WowWee and their partners understand that promotional videos need to disclose that they’re paid ads, as per FTC guidelines. Besides working with YouTubers, WowWee also worked with Instagrammers and mommy bloggers on this launch.

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