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Why L.O.L. Surprise! dolls are Xmas hits: The unwrapping is pure drama

MGA Entertainment's pooping unicorns are also popular this year, but Isaac Larian, MGA Entertainment founder and chief executive said it's "nothing compared to L.O.L."

LOL toys are shown in the toys department at the Target in Abington, Pa. Monday, November 19, 2018. This is the first holiday season without Toys R Us and retailers like Target are vying for those shoppers. JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
LOL toys are shown in the toys department at the Target in Abington, Pa. Monday, November 19, 2018. This is the first holiday season without Toys R Us and retailers like Target are vying for those shoppers. JOSE F. MORENO / Staff PhotographerRead moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

People have tuned in more than a million times to an almost 30-minute Youtube video of two women unboxing a pink plastic case with more than 60 "surprises" inside.

With manicured nails, they dig out doll accessories from the layered packaging, unveiling blue and pink shoes, white shimmery shorts, a pink camouflage hat, and a checkered blue skirt for the dolls lurking deep inside.

The women move on to the next layer with six larger capsules, offering various wigs for the dolls. In the third layer, four more balls need unwrapping. More digging reveals more items until the women finally liberate the dolls.

This video of the $89.99 L.O.L Surprise! Bigger Surprise makes the unwrapping a big part of the excitement. The top, an upgraded version of last year's "Big Surprise," is being sold for full price at Target $79 on Amazon and $76.49 at Walmart, and is recommended on Walmart for kids ages 6 to 10. Videos such as this have proliferated on YouTube, and one million views isn't even the most popular.

The L.O.L. Surprise! brand, named the 2018 Toy of the Year by the Toy Association, has continued to dazzle kids by unveiling new products to add to its collection, as seen on its own YouTube channel with unboxing stars Tahani and Mykal-Michelle. A video from last year where viewers learn how to unbox seven layers of the L.O.L! Surprise Series 2 Dolls has been seen more than 12 million times. The various L.O.L. toys range in price from $10 or less to the $199.99 doll house that includes more than 85 items. 

"It's the biggest phenomenon I've ever seen," said Isaac Larian, MGA Entertainment chief executive. "We also made the Bratz dolls, which were a big big phenomenon but this is four, five times that."

The total retail sales of L.O.L. Surprise! dolls (which means Little Outrageous Little Surprise) is in excess of $4 billion worldwide this year, compared with  about $600 million last year, and the brand has close to 350 licenses, including bedding and Halloween costumes, Larian said.

L.O.L. Surprise! Eye Spy Series, which retails for $9.99, is one of the finalists this year for the Toy Association's collectible of the year.

The brand's fame is something that Pamela Logan understands firsthand. Her daughter Leah is always on YouTube watching unboxing videos like this. 

"If there's an L.O.L., I'm getting it, especially if she's with me," Logan said of her daughter. Everywhere Logan, 62, went in the weeks leading up to Black Friday, she said parents seemed to be talking about how their child wants L.O.L. Surprise! dolls. So a full week before Black Friday, Logan, who lives near Philadelphia International Airport, went to the Walmart in South Philadelphia and managed to grab the last Pearl Surprise version on the shelves.

Among the top-selling toys last month in the United States, L.O.L. Surprise! took seven of the top 10 slots, which was "pretty unheard of," said Juli Lennett, a toy industry analyst with the NPD Group. The L.O.L. Surprise! brand was also on four of the top 10 fastest selling toys, she said. Overall, it was the top property in October for the total U.S. toy industry, according to the NPD Group.

"They have had incredible success with YouTube because kids have been gravitating toward watching unboxing videos on YouTube for some time," Lennett said. "But this particular product really lends itself to that format. It's not like you are opening a box and pulling out a doll. It may take them 20 minutes to unravel. …That's very compelling for a kid, just as compelling as watching a TV show."

Other popular toys this year include Poopsie Slime Surprise Unicorn, another MGA Entertainment toy. Buyers don't know exactly what unicorn version is inside the packaging. Kids feed the toy unicorn something called "unicorn shimmer" and "unicorn food." Then they remove her diaper, put her on a "glitter potty" and wait for her to poop "unicorn slime." A Poopsie Surprise Unicorn sells for $49.99 and can reach up to $100 for some products.

"We just launched a brand new line called Poopsie, which came out to the market about three, four weeks ago and that is also looking very promising," Larian said. "But again, nothing compared to L.O.L. One day it can become that big, but it is just the beginning."

Andrea Way, co-manager of the Walmart on Christopher Columbus Boulevard, has watched the L.O.L. Surprise! brand fly off the shelves. Her 6-year-old daughter asks for the doll, too. "My daughter loves L.O.L," she said. "The kids, they're not watching cable anymore, they're on YouTube now. … They just sit there and like to see kids or adults play with toys."

David Markman, store director at Target's Abington location, said that for toys, "by far L.O.L. Surprise! is the most popular. So that's been our biggest hit this year."'

Larian said his MGA Entertainment team thought there was an opportunity to create "the ultimate unboxing toy" after noticing what he calls "the unboxing phenomenon on YouTube." So they designed and created the dolls, and worked in the element of surprise throughout the packaging. They also pivoted away from more traditional marketing strategies by using social media sites such as YouTube and Instagram to reach their targeted audience.

"There used to be a time where you could have a toy and you would just make a TV commercial and you would put it on Nickelodeon," Larian said. "We didn't do that. Kids are not watching Nickelodeon anymore. They are on YouTube. They are on Instagram."

Adrienne Appell, a spokesperson for the Toy Association, said L.O.L. Surprise! products "led the way" with capitalizing on the unboxing trend last year, and she expects that to continue this holiday season.

"It's really all about that element of surprise and what's good for parents is that these toys are very affordable."

Shoppers who didn't grab their child's preferred L.O.L. Surprise! package on Black Friday or Cyber Monday may have a chance to snag it before the holidays, but only if they act fast. When the company put the products out in Target in December 2016, Larian said, the inventory that was supposed to sell until Easter was gone in two weeks. Larian also predicts that the Poopsie Surprise Unicorn will " be the hottest toy this fall" and sell out before Christmas.

Even though retailers know the popularity of the L.O.L. dolls now, they are still struggling to keep up with demand, Larian said.

"The products have such sales velocity, it just doesn't stay around for long. … Unfortunately, some kids are going to be disappointed come this holiday," Larian said. "Go and buy it now. Don't wait."