Adam Woods, creative director at ZURU, has helped develop brands for the company including Rainbocorns, Smashers, Robo Alive, and Pets Alive. He is also the inventor of the TikTok-favorite, collectible 5 Surprise Mini Brands line. In this Q&A, Woods talks about the biggest trends in the toy industry, the social media success of Mini Brands, the creative process behind the latest Rainbocorns extensions — and more.
To start, can you give us an overview of your role at ZURU?
Adam Woods: I joined ZURU five years ago to head up the company’s creative department as their global creative director. Working closely with co-founder Mat Mowbray, my responsibilities range from launching new brands, growing existing product lines and solidifying the ZURU’s collectibles portfolio. Our goal: establish ubiquitous pillar brands across value, trend, and innovation categories that disrupt and succeed.
From the growing award-winning Rainbocorns plush range, the top-selling 5 Surprise Mini Brands brand, to the consistently top-ranked Bunch O Balloons, I’m thrilled to be a part of a team that has taken multiple brands to the top of the U.S. NPD rankings and ingrained them in the hearts and homes of millions.
When you boil it down, one of the most exciting and most fun parts of working in toys is creating ideas for new brands and toys that we think kids will LOVE! That’s what it is all about, right? The play! The excitement! We manufacture over 600,000 toys every day and distribute to over 121 countries! It’s a great feeling to bring joy and happiness to kids worldwide.
What do you see as the biggest trends in the toy industry right now and how is ZURU putting its own spin on those trends?
AW: Ironically, one of the BIGGEST trends is small. Great toys are often a reflection of the things we see in our everyday lives. Our 5 Surprise Mini Brands and Toy Mini Brands line harnessed this observation!
Since we launched 5 Surprise Mini Brands in 2019, millions worldwide have chased and collected the tiny exact replicas of the world’s most iconic, beloved brands. The idea itself — combining blind surprise reveals, miniature collectibles and the fun of shopping — has been a huge success! Today it is one of the #1 selling items in the States with over 140 million sold. I give huge props to our team for executing an enormous licensing program as well as to our design and free form engineering team. Their attention to detail in the sculptures and printing is just world class. From Hershey’s Chocolate Sauce, Kraft Mac and Cheese, Heinz Ketchup, Pez Candies, and Post’s Cereals, currently, there are over 400 different iconic brands made.
The popularity of Mini Brands on social media is just mind boggling, another trend-setting element to a brand’s success these days. There are over three billion views on TikTok!
From product development, brand extensions, to injecting the social space with Mini Brands, we’re tripling down on the mini trend to create an evergreen line and are so excited about what we have in development!
The pandemic has created a lot of demand for toys and games that keep kids entertained, active, and mentally stimulated while staying and learning at home. Have pandemic-related toy trends had an impact on your creative approach/process in any way?
AW: Most definitely. Adding superior play value is something ZURU has always delivered. COVID has reinforced value at affordability is more pertinent than ever.
For instance, Smashers Lava Light-Up Dino Mega Surprise is a thrilling epic dino experience allowing kids to excavate and create while exploring! We gauge it’s at least a 45-minute unboxing adventure with 25 interactive surprises all priced for under $25.
With trend lines like Rainbocorns and Smashers, we have really strived to ensure the play experience and value is as long and as engaging as we can make it. They’re fantastic boredom killers and truly create a stimulating, emotional connection and experience that rewards the purchase.
You were very involved in creating ZURU’s Rainbocorns brand, which recently launched new Rainbocorns Puppycorn Surprise, Rainbocorns Fairycorn Surprise, and Rainbocorns Jelly Shake Surprise. Can you tell us about the creative process behind these new extensions on Rainbocorns?
AW: Rainbocorns is just a really fun brand. It’s one of my favorites and I love looking back to how it started and how far it has grown!
It was born out of irreverence and that’s been a huge part of its success. We were in a brainstorming session and I just sketched a giant egg with a unicorn horn. It may have been deliberately ostentatious — it drew laughter and sparked excitement. Soon we conceptualized a plush which features zany unicorn-themed creatures hatched from a mystery egg with layers of rainbows, sparkles, surprises, magical hearts, and fun names like boo-boo corns and rainbocorn poop!
Two years later, it’s become an iconic footprint with multiple recognitions. We’ve been awarded Plush Toy of the Year at both the U.K. and Australian Toy of the Year Awards, as well as the coveted People’s Choice Awards at the Toy of the Year Awards in New York in 2019.
So it stands to reason we’re pushing the themes and in-store theatre to branch into more ridiculousness! A lot of the fun starts with asking: What else can we pop out of the egg? Puppy ears, bunny tails, wings, and so much more; and then we snowball into great character development and themes.
The brand also has a licensed property with apparel, stationery and more, as well as a digital component with over a dozen Rainbocorns webisodes launched at ZURU’s online kids hub. Every other week, new two-to-three minute episodes will bring the quirky, imaginative characters to life.
Can you give us any insight into what to expect from ZURU?
AW: We have a lot up our sleeve! While it is too soon to reveal, it’s safe to say ZURU will continue to deliver in the core categories we are known for and ready to launch products that promise to disrupt, excite, and entertain; we are also investing in entertainment content. Our team works so harmoniously, we just get down in the weeds and do the work and have a LOT of fun, making fun. The results speak for themselves. I am privileged to be a part of it.
This Q&A appeared in the October 2021 issue of TFE Magazine.