Zuru Toys is a curious outfit. On one hand, they have fantastic, original lines like their global hit Bunch O Balloons, this year’s successful Smashers (now in Series Two) and one of my current Holiday Wish Guide™ picks – Rainbocorns Sequin Surprise (my girls LOVE theirs). But then they tread really close to other popular brands, releasing toys that there’s no denying are at least inspired-by some heavy-hitters, perhaps stopping just short of being called something more unsavory… knockoffs. There’s 5 Surprise, which as the name implies places five toys inside a round orb, no doubt taking some cues from MGA Entertainment’s L.O.L. Surprise line, but packing-in toys akin to what you’d find in a 50¢ vending machine. Then you’ve got X-Shot, which is a straight-up competitor to Hasbro’s NERF line; METAL MACHINES which is a value-priced diecast line that’s clearly inspired by Mattel’s Hot Wheels; Oosh which is essentially Educational Insights’ Floam; you get the idea. Now they’re chasing LEGO with MAX BUILD MORE, a new collection of “compatible” building bricks that’s just launched as a Walmart exclusive. In a press release, Zuru touts them as “a premium quality, value-priced toy brick line — compatible with all major toy brick brands and offering unbeatable value for budget with hundreds of high-quality bricks in each set for a fraction of the current price.”
Now, the construction category by default is one that’s long-been rife with similarly-themed competition. Still, when it comes to bricks, LEGO flat-out owns that aisle despite their reputation for coming at a premium price. The folks at MEGA Brands have been taking heat from kids and collectors alike for their MEGA Bloks (disclosure: I’ve done work for them) for years, and that pre-dated Mattel’s 2014 acquisition of that company. Hasbro got into the mix by bringing their Kre-O stateside (a rebranded version of the Korean Oxford Bricks), and then you’ve got countless smaller companies that are all peddling sets that are “compatible with major brands.” Because the construction category is such a unique beast, I almost wouldn’t give Zuru’s MAX BUILD MORE a questionable look, but their recent history of derivative toys makes me say, “come on, guys, really?”
Even the box they come in is a knockoff very close to a LEGO tub, but even closer to a K’NEX box (they called and would like their beveled edges back). And the logo and figures? Jazwares is probably wondering why these look suspiciously similar to their ROBLOX line.
Renee Lee, Director of Global Marketing for ZURU, explained, “The founding principle behind MAX is providing the best quality bricks at an unbeatable price. MAX is designed for savvy parents who don’t want to break the bank to give their little ones the best in imaginative brick play. We’ve created a cheeky, up-front brand to appeal to moms which will launch with humorous, relevant content across social and digital media – all driving to our exclusive retail partner, Walmart.”
Again, appreciate the idea, and the construction realm would pretty much be given a pass if it weren’t for all the other similar toys that Zuru is putting out of late. “Cheeky,” yes – I’ve seen the “tired mom” commercial for MAX BUILD MORE, but here’s another thing… kids know. Some will call these things “LEGO” by default (Coke/Pepsi), but others will know that they’re not LEGO and boldly point that out. Back in the day we’d say “generic.”
Zuru Toys is a company with a great story and they’re a company whose efforts I’ve supported in the past. They have the ability to do better. Going forward, here’s hoping we see more Bunch O Balloons and less MAX BUILD MORE.