TikTok is perhaps one of the only places you will hear someone enthusiastically say, “Ooh, some Axe deodorant!” in the year of our Lord 2021.
It’s not what you’d think, however, since it’s not really Axe deodorant. It’s a shrunken-down version, packaged in a tiny capsule ball—a Mini Brand. And a hard-to-find one at that, as the line it comes in—series one balls—has been discontinued. So, avid Mini Brand collectors will understand the excitement this particular get can create.
Mini Brands, the hit toy from New Zealand company ZURU, has only grown in popularity since its launch in 2019. Mini Brands was one of the first toys in its category to capitalize on TikTok’s potential, and it has paid off. Tags for Mini Brands-related content have billions of views—with the main #MiniBrands hashtag garnering 2.2 billion views alone. In August, ZURU released its series three collection which has been a hit on the platform, with content for it racking up over 150 million views in just over a month.
“So far, we’ve shipped 86 million capsules and I have to say that a huge portion of that exposure, if not 80%, is really driven through TikTok,” Anna Mowbray, CEO of ZURU, told the Daily Dot.
Mini Brands and other miniatures have garnered their own subsect of TikTok, with numerous accounts dedicated to unboxing and playing with these mini items. And it’s easy to understand why TikTokers have taken to the brand. The toys’ appeal combines nostalgia, mystery, collectability, and a bit of ASMR.
Mini creators say they love the realistic details of the toys, which feature replica labels, mimicked textures, and even little barcodes. When I asked popular minis creator Rachel, or @rachels_minis, about the interest, she said people are fascinated by “things that tend to be out of the norm.”
“It doesn’t contain actual food but the appeal is holding something so tiny in your hand knowing it shouldn’t be that small yet getting that little flutter of amazement in seeing it up close,” she said.
Catherine, who runs the ASMR account @asmrplayroom, added that unboxing a Mini Brand is a satisfying experience from start to finish: “Shaking to hear what’s inside, tearing the plastic zippers, the pull tab letting the pods fall. And finally the thrill of opening each pod for the surprise inside!”
Mowbray said that the love for Mini Brands transcends age groups. Children, teens, and adults alike enjoy the toy—and creators agree. TikToker Annie Ochoa, or @minicrafties, shared why she thinks her multigenerational audience is interested in the minis.
“My younger audience love that they can have their favorite food, snacks, and toys in a miniature version for their dolls,” she said. “The audience from my generation feel nostalgic; seeing all these minis reminds them of one of their favorite childhood toys—Polly Pocket. It also reminds them of playing with their Barbie dolls and wish Mini Brands would’ve been around back when they were little kids.”
The collectability of the toy allows parents and children—or simply enthusiastic adults—to come together to build something. Rachel says that the community around the toy has grown a lot since she joined TikTok, and she has since helped expand it outside of the app. Last December, she co-created a Facebook group for Mini Brands enthusiasts called “TikTok Minis R Us” which currently has about 5,500 members. In it, folks buy, sell, and trade Mini Brands and Toy Mini Brands, a sub-brand of the flagship toy.
“I think more [than] anything it brings us together,” she said of the Mini Brand community. “Gives us a sense of togetherness. [Whether] we shop (hunt) together, make content together, trade minis, sell minis, bounce ideas off of each other. For some, it gives us a sense of purpose in a time [COVID] where we may have really needed that.”
Popular Science declared 2020 the year of the miniature, partly due to the lack of control we all had in the real world. When everything else was out of our hands, we turned to mini-worlds— dollhouses, tiny foods, even video games—to process life around us and find a sense of certainty. As for where Mini Brands fits into this, the New York Times’ Amanda Hess said the toys “service a nostalgia for the very recent past, when the grocery represented a familiar expanse.”
Mini Brands are the perfect toys to build a mini world around, and many creators have done just that. Rachel, Ochoa, and a number of other TikTokers have created little grocery stores to store (no pun intended) their stock of Mini Brands. The mini-shops are just as impressive as the Mini Brands, with TikTokers creating makeshift aisles with household items like acrylic makeup organizers and kitchen utensil holders. It gives interactive videos, videos where viewers place “orders,” a more realistic feel. It’s also a cute way to store a massive stock of Mini Brands—which creators often have.
Whether to make content or to casually collect, getting into Mini Brands is an investment of time and money. It’s hard to do much with just one ball’s worth of Mini Brands. The nature of the toy encourages you to buy more of it because part of the allure is in the chase and the prospect of completing a collection. Essentially, you can’t just buy one, or you won’t really get the hype.
That can quickly create an excess of toys, especially because each ball is a mystery. The TikTokers I spoke to have many duplicates, but that works for them because it keeps their mini store shelves stocked. What, then, can people do with the duplicates they inevitably receive in pursuit of finishing a collection?
Instead of tossing or wasting a toy, it appears that most enthusiasts help each other finish collections. The series one collection, creators say, is harder to complete because the line has been discontinued, so the only way to get some older minis is to buy from or trade with people online.
Those who are less interested in that, however, find more creative uses for their minis and even the waste created by the plastic balls (which Mowbray said will be changing to post-consumer plastic beginning in 2022). Catherine said she makes magnets out of her spare minis, and Rachel makes store shelves out of the ball capsules. Other DIY endeavors include earrings, art, and Crocs Jibbitz.
While collectors try to get their hands on the newest series three launch, Mowbray tells me bigger things are in the works in 2022, expanding from Mini Brands and Toy Mini Brands to include three new sub-brands. So whenever folks finish their series three hauls, it appears they have much to look forward to.