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Zhu Zhu Pets Take a Boy-Centric Turn

Last year might have aptly been dubbed Year of the Zhu Zhu in toy circles, as 'the pets with no mess' dominated retail aisles and made manufacturer Cepia a player to watch in the industry. Now the question remains as to whether or not the company can maintain that level of commercial success.
January 12, 2011

Last year might have aptly been dubbed Year of the Zhu Zhu in toy circles, as ‘the pets with no mess’ dominated retail aisles and made manufacturer Cepia a player to watch in the industry. Now the question remains as to whether or not the company can maintain that level of commercial success.

Accordingly, Cepia took a good look at its property and identified an opportunity for a brand extension that would bring Zhu Zhu Pets to a wider demo and spin off a whole new array of consumer products.

‘What we found was that with girls, the brand extends from about four years old to somewhere around 12,’ says Laura Kurzu, VP of marketing for Cepia. ‘Somewhere around seven to eight, boys begin to migrate towards action. They think it isn’t socially acceptable [to play with Zhu Zhu Pets], and the ones who do stick with it tend to be ‘closet players.”

Enter the action. Cepia took the basic idea behind the mechanical hamsters and added an action-oriented play pattern and tribal associations to the products. ‘It’s the same fundamental proposition, but we added weaponry,’ says Kurzu. ‘It is consistent with the brand though – that is paramount.’

The newly dubbed Kung Zhu line started hitting shelves this past summer, but Cepia’s big push occurred during the late-2010 holiday season. Learning from its previous success, the company is keeping the price-point of the warrior rodents under US$10 apiece, with additional armor and accessories coming in at under US$6.

A back-story to drive more product iterations is also being developed through a direct-to-DVD release expected next year. Although the details are scarce, the tale will play upon the core boy demo’s traditional fondness for tribal affiliations.

In the meantime, Cepia is advertising the new extension with boy-friendly spots on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon, and has thus far scored distribution with big-box retailers throughout North America and Europe, covering roughly 60 countries around the globe. The marketing will follow much the same tack as the original property, with in-store displays and targeted TV ads acting as the key awareness drivers.

Not surprisingly, the core toy is ready to enter the ancillary product space, and Kurzu says that Cepia is judicious when it picks its licensing partners, preferring the quality-over-quantity approach. Boca Raton, Florida-based The Bridge, for example, was chosen as a licensee for the Kung Zhu line, as it has experience creating products based on the original Zhu Zhu brand.

‘What we are trying to do together is build a brand to take this property from a one-dimensional play pattern to a broader range, offering kids a broader experience,’ says Jay Foreman, founder and president of The Bridge. ‘We want to make sure this brand can go the long haul, so we are developing a range of products to drive the brand for a longer period of time.’

The Bridge’s Kung Zhu products are slated to land at retail during Q1 with full TV ad support and include the Kung Zhu Fortress Collector Case (US$10.99), Kung Zhu six-inch plush with sounds (US$7.99) and Kung Zhu three-inch figure packs (US$6.99).

‘From our experience, retailers will open up to more SKUs as the brand establishes itself as a mainstay,’ Foreman says. ‘We have found that everyone is on-board with the concept because everyone wants to see this brand around for the long run.’

About The Author
Gary Rusak is a freelance writer based in Toronto. He has covered the kids entertainment industry for the last decade with a special interest in licensing, retail and consumer products. You can reach him at garyrusak@gmail.com

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