S. Korean toy market driven by animation success, parents’ pride

By Cho Chung-un, Asia News Network

The Korea Herald–For Oh Soo-hyun, the mother of a 4-year-old boy in Seoul, last year was a nightmare. “Turning Mecard,” she said. “I’ve been searching for this everywhere, almost every single day. But even though I get it one by one, the company keeps producing different models. … It has no end.”

Oh is one of many Korean parents pressured by their kids who are captivated by the hit TV animation series. The action-adventure series features dozens of minicars and main characters who control them with their mysterious cards. When touching a card, minicars transform into huge physical things, such as robots, animals and a vampire.

Sonokong, a local toy distributor and content developer, turned these main features of animation series into toys — minicars transforming not by magic power but by magnetic force.

Packs consisting of mini cars and cards dominated the nation’s market scene here. On the back of the animation’s sensational popularity, Sonokong grabbed the No. 1 position, pushing foreign brands such as Lego out of the ring in less than a year. Building toys like Lego have been losing ground to homegrown action characters like Turning Mecard, Tobot by another firm Young Toys, which was recently sold to a Hong Kong investor. The firm’s third-quarter sales reached 77.6 billion won (US$64.2 million), with 6.7 billion won in operating profit, recording 290 percent growth year-on-year. Sonokong’s share price peaked on June 18 — when schools and kindergartens were temporarily closed amid fears over the Middle East respiratory syndrome — at 8,750 won, up from 2,980 won on Jan. 2, last year.

Market analysts estimate that Sonokong’s 2015 sales will surpass the 100 billion won mark, thanks to the brisk sales at the Christmas season. The size of the Korean toy market hovers around 1 trillion won and the sector remains less vulnerable to other negative economic factors due to Korean parents’ undying desire to satisfy their kids, they added. Dramatic Success