China Media

Why China’s blind box economy is a good bet for brands

By Rocky Chi, Head of planning

October 20, 2021 | 7 min read

Chinese consumer spending is set to more than double in the next ten years. By 2030, China’s private consumption is set to reach a staggering $12.7tn. In such a competitive and growing market brands need to stand out from the crowd.

Emerging Communications on engaging Chinese Gen Z's through emotions, interactions and genuine brand connections and why blind boxes are having their moment.

Emerging Communications on engaging Chinese gen Zs through emotions, interactions and the blind box trend

One recent trend is the blind box, where customers purchase a package from a brand containing unknown products. While the concept itself is nothing new (first appearing with Japanese gashapon culture in the 1980s), it’s a craze that’s grabbed the imagination of young Chinese consumers.

On Weibo, the number of readings of blind box has reached 270m, with over 289,000 related discussions. According to the Baidu index, blind boxes now have the same order of magnitude as massively popular escape room games, KTV bars and internet cafes.

So, are blind boxes a bet worth taking for brands? Today we provide a glimpse into this exciting new China market.

Lanvin’s on board

Blind box products are incredibly social – with consumers comparing and discussing their excitement at rare finds over Chinese social media.

That’s why renowned luxury brand Lanvin took advantage of this social buzz with its campaign for Chinese Valentine’s day. This involved a blind box lottery on its WeChat Mini Program, where for 500 yuan consumers entered a draw to redeem prizes at Lanvin vending machines containing silk scarves, sneakers and even handbags.

The campaign was immensely successful at gaining the attention of young Chinese consumers, attracting over 50,000 game-players within a month and garnering over five times the daily average views of Lanvin’s WeChat articles.

Small boxes, big business

The blind box market was worth 7.4bn yuan ($1.14bn) in 2019, and this is predicted to soar to 30bn yuan by 2024.

They are an example of probabilistic selling – where even after making payment, consumers have no idea what’s inside. Random-draw marketing has a long history worldwide, from baseball cards and bubble-gum packets to the Pokémon card craze of the 1990s. This concept has been revolutionized for the modern day, with Chinese consumers hooked on the addictive feeling of suspense.

These small boxes are big business to the highly-educated, white-collar, youthful buyers they attract. Women (often from first-tier cities) account for over 62% of blind box sales. Overall, a staggering 74% of consumers fall between the ages of 18-34.

The China market leader in this sector is Pop Mart. With 136 stores and 1,001 vending machines across China, its toy figurines are sold in sets of twelve (the most famous of which is the ‘Molly’ doll). Each set has the potential to include one rare hidden figurine that only appears in around one out of every 144 boxes.

The company’s profits recently skyrocketed to hit RMB 1.1bn in 2019. With results from the first half of 2021 hitting 1.77bn, Pop Mart’s billion-dollar empire is showing no signs of slowing.

What’s the appeal of blind boxes?

The sheer variety of industries and brands offering blind boxes has caught gen Z’s attention. Dozens of brands including Starbucks, McDonald’s, Pringles, Amazon and Ikea have jumped on the blind box bandwagon. Even the Chinese travel industry has got on board, with airlines selling blind box domestic flights to randomly-chosen destinations.

For Chinese gen Z and millennial generations (raised in periods of relative affluence), the game-like elements of surprise and excitement have stimulated buyer curiosity. Strong subcultures have emerged, with a large additional market for modified toys and products.

Major 3C brands such as Lenovo are also taking notice of gamified shopping experiences. A ‘big blind box’ was launched jointly between Lenovo and Pop Mart, offering a double-blind form of gameplay. The first open revealed a Lenovo Xiaoxin Pro 14 and Lenovo Xiaoxin×YUKI figurine, as well as other randomly selected products. A rare open new card allowed lucky customers to redeem additional high-value Lenovo products and collectable dolls.

With a strong preference for purchases allowing self-expression and a sense of fun, Chinese gen Z are willing to pay for hobbies that drive emotional satisfaction – and blind boxes are one extremely satisfying way to do this.

How can brands build on the blind box craze?

Much of the appeal of the blind box concept lies in the delivery and unwrapping experience – with collection, surprise and social engagement all playing a part.

Here’s a glimpse into just some of the ways brands can drive purchases and improve their China marketing strategy...

Online and offline intergration

Blind box promotions provide opportunities to combine online and offline omnichannel sales.

Take Bubble Mart as an example – as well as their flagship store, the brand owns self-operated stores, pop-up stores and unmanned vending machines, all offering blind box experiences. This is in addition to major Chinese social media campaigns and traditional online sales.

With multiple channels, products are visible to more people more of the time – increasing exposure and promoting purchases.

Winning the hearts of today’s gen Z consumer

The adrenaline rush involved in unwrapping a blind box contributes to the sense of fun and addiction that makes them so popular with Chinese consumers.

Brands have taken advantage of this by increasing the uniqueness of their products – for instance, an ‘archaeological blind box’ from the Henan Museum where consumers had to use a Luoyang shovel to dig out the contents of the blind box.

With Chinese gen Z and millennials valuing emotional value highly, creating prolonged interactions and genuine brand connections should be central to any Chinese marketing strategy.

For any brands looking for the next big marketing opportunities in China, blind boxes are a particularly exciting sector to watch. For more insights into the China market, take a look at our Complete Guide to Chinese Gen Z, with everything you need to know about understanding Chinese gen Z spending, driving engagement and improving your Chinese mark.

Rocky Chi, head of planning at Emerging Communications, with editorial input from Michaela Zhu.

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