Toy story: uncovering the bizarre phenomenon of blind packaging

Kirsty McCandless with the popular LOL Dolls at The Entertainer toy shop in CastleCourt. 'Pic Pacemaker
Kirsty McCandless with the popular LOL Dolls at The Entertainer toy shop in CastleCourt. 'Pic Pacemaker

It is nothing new for parents of young children to be faced with demands for the latest must-have toy.

However, a modern dilemma has arisen, whereby mums and dads are forking out considerable amounts of money for items which their children may already own.

Scott Gordon with his LEGO collection which is on display at Brownlow College where he teaches

Scott Gordon with his LEGO collection which is on display at Brownlow College where he teaches

The phenomenon of toys presented in ‘blind’ packaging is rife in the current toy market, with the hugely popular LOL Surprise dolls at the forefront of the craze.

A Confetti Pop version of the toy will set you back £11, and after unwrapping nine layers to reveal a mystery doll, you could be in for a shock.

The unwrapping process is not unlike a one-player version of pass the parcel, and while there is a chance your child might get a sought-after ‘ultra rare’ doll at the end of it – there is an even greater chance they might uncover a doll that is already in their collection.

Store manager at The Entertainer in Belfast’s CastleCourt, Kirsty McCandless, discussed the ‘blind’ packaging phenomenon with reference to LOL dolls.

She said: “I would say that the company behind the LOL Surprise dolls is just following the strategy used by other companies who produce collectable items like Shopkins, Hatchimals, etc.

“These are generally sold in waves/seasons and when they have been around for a few weeks or months then new stock will be launched. Children are always wanting new styles and being available for a limited time is what makes them so collectable.”

Kirsty explained that the surprise element of not knowing what you’re going to get when you open the packaging is driven in part by a number of ‘influencers’ on YouTube.

She said: “There are many young YouTubers who are documenting the opening of LOLs and creating excitement for the children that are watching.

“As many children aspire to be like these YouTubers, they want to have their own LOL to open and play with.”

In some cases, these YouTube ‘unboxers’ with the most followers are sent toys directly from manufacturers – a shrewd piece of advertising as they ensure their latest product is reaching a huge audience.

Kirsty commented: “It is the unknown factor of the product that creates excitement for the children. Also, there is the chance to get rare dolls or pets which also helps add to the excitement and collectability.”

The LOL craze began in the summer of 2017 and gained momentum throughout the Christmas trading season with the LOL Big Surprise becoming one of the most highly sought gifts.

In terms of children ending up with duplicates of the same LOL dolls, Kirsty said the store had plans to introduce LOL swap days.

Long before LOLs burst onto the scene, one of the world’s most enduring companies was one of the first big names to introduce blind packaging.

Although LEGO minifigures are celebrating their 40th birthday in 2018, buying them in blind bags first became a craze in 2010.

Scott Gordon, a school teacher and LEGO fan from Lurgan, has been a brick lover since an early age.

He said: “My earliest memory of LEGO was getting set number 6388 for Christmas - a camper van and summer house.

“That got me hooked and I would save my pocket money to select a small set from Wellworths on a Saturday afternoon.

“I guess those memories never leave you and I never really moved away from playing with LEGO which is great now because with two small kids at home it gives me an excuse to continue building.”

Scott described LEGO’s introduction of blind bags as a ‘game changer’: “With both the blind minifigure bags and the release of the licensed sets - Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Simpsons and mostly recently Minecraft - it has made the LEGO brand even stronger.

“The release also of the more girl friendly ‘Friends’ range and of course the LEGO Movie and LEGO Batman Movie played a huge part in the continual rise.”

The 35-year-old who contributes to Blocks magazine – a worldwide celebration of all things LEGO – said there was a huge community of similarly minded adults who love to collect and build LEGO known as AFOL (Adult Fans of LEGO).

It is certainly not a cheap hobby - a new LEGO version of Star Wars’ iconic Millennium Falcon will set you back £649.99.

In terms of the soaring prices of LEGO, Scott said: “It always sad to see a significant price hike in products but I guess the brand is so popular that people are willing to spend. There are bargains to be had, but you have to be patient and shop around.”

Scott has been a teacher at Brownlow College in Craigavon for nearly 10 years and keeps the majority of his LEGO sets in his classroom as part of the LEGO club he runs at the school.