Digital Marketing Redux   //   November 28, 2023

How Amazon-backed Superplastic is trying to transform its toys into ‘synthetic celebrities’

Two new executives are taking the reins at the Amazon-backed collectibles company Superplastic — and they want to bring the brand and its “synthetic celebrities” to more platforms and audiences.

Superplastic is a creation studio and consumer brand in one. The company, which launched in 2017, sells a variety of limited-edition designer toys and collectibles inspired by its original animated characters — a group that includes the cat-like Janky and rabbit-like Guggimon. Its collectibles, which have their own personalities and are geared towards adults, typically sell for up to $200. Superplastic says it’s made millions of dollars through high-end stores like Selfridges and direct-to-consumer, the latter of which includes its brick-and-mortar store in New York City and its website.

Now, the company, with the help of Amazon, is trying to grow its intellectual property business. Superplastic is working to transform its physical collectibles into virtual celebrities — ones who can steer multimillion-dollar content franchises spanning everything from gaming to apparel to music. To grow the brand, Superplastic appointed two new executives over the last couple months: Jennifer van Dijk as CEO and Brian Scotto as chief creative officer. Superplastic founder Paul Budnitz, who created Superplastic after launching the collectibles company Kidrobot, is staying on to advise with creative.

With this new C-suite, Superplastic is looking to establish a firmer place in avenues like sports and entertainment. The company aims to do so by bringing its existing characters to more formats — like video games and streaming — as well as by creating new characters. For instance, Superplastic plans to launch a gaming experience featuring its character Dayzee sometime before the end of 2024. Janky and Guggimon, who appeared in an iteration of “Fortnite” in 2021, will reprise their roles in a new edition of the game. With this expansion strategy, “profitability and major profitability are certainly the goals” over the next few years, van Dijk told Modern Retail.

Superplastic’s content deals and partnerships will be key to this effort. In February, Amazon’s Alexa Fund led a financing round that invested $20 million in the brand, bringing its total funding to $58 million. Superplastic also inked a deal for a first-look TV show from Amazon Studios and is in the process of writing a pilot featuring Janky and Guggimon. In a statement, Paul Bernard, director of the Alexa Fund, said Amazon sees Superplastic “as demonstrative of a new class of IP that is going to be increasingly relevant with younger generations.”

Collaborations are a major part of Superplastic’s business, as well. It has worked with luxury brands like Gucci and Mercedes-Benz, as well as music artists like Gorillaz, Vince Staples and Post Malone. In September, The Weeknd and Superplastic released a capsule collection of three vinyl figures to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of The Weeknd’s debut album. This year, Superplastic ventured into the music space by creating its first record label, Superplastic Records, and signing its 3D animated hip-hop duo Ghost Kidz. (Ghost Kidz, who participated in an actual music festival in Miami, are voiced by “two prominent hip hop artists, who at present have chosen to remain anonymous,” according to a press release.)

Today, the majority of Superplastic’s sales come from direct-to-consumer, which is a “huge focus” of growth going forward, van Dijk said. “That said, we are going to aggressively look to find other partnerships, whether those be wholesale relationships, licensing relationships,” she added. Superplastic has a presence in department stores such as Selfridges and Harvey Nichols. It could expand to other retailers at other price points in the future, van Dijk said.

“But, at the moment, we also feel like most brands do,” she added. “That owning that customer data and understanding who those customers are can help inform not just our sales strategy, but also our brand and content strategy or character development strategy.”

While it works with actual celebrities, a core tenant of Superplastic’s business model is the idea of a “synthetic celebrity” — a made-up character who is essentially an influencer in their own right. Janky and Guggimon are some of Superplastic’s biggest “synthetic celebrities” and have their own social media accounts. They currently have 12.1 million followers on TikTok. In total, Superplastic’s “synthetic celebrities” have 19 million followers across social media, according to the brand.

Having “synthetic celebrities” lends a certain amount of reliability when it comes to brand building, Scotto pointed out. “I’ve worked with influencers for the past decade, and influencers change the things they want to do, and they also cancel themselves,” he said. “Working with Superplastic and characters like Janky and Guggimon, there’s this interesting opportunity to be able to build something that stays evergreen… But you can also constantly build new characters as you see fit.”

Superplastic is one of a growing number of brands creating intellectual property that merges between the digital and physical worlds. Claire’s “Shimmerville” franchise creates characters for its Roblox game, and then sells merchandise featuring those characters in its retail stores. Last fall, Forever 21 started selling products on its website that connect back to its Roblox game “Shop City.”

Drew Haines, StockX’s director of sneakers and collectibles, told Modern Retail that Superplastic is “highly respected” in the collectibles space. While Superplastic isn’t the biggest brand in StockX’s collectibles business (that belongs to Disney and Mattel), it does do well on the platform, Haines said. “From a StockX perspective, whenever they have a scarce release, we would support that in our catalog, and we would see trades of that,” he said. While it can change, the average sale price of Superplastic items on the site runs anywhere from $75 to $717.

The most popular Superplastic collaboration on StockX over the past two years is one it did with the NFT collection Bored Ape Yacht Club. Superplastic x Bored Ape Yacht Club products are still available on StockX, with asking prices ranging between $69 to $290. “I think that just goes to show that there’s a lot of interest in not only the collectible space, but also how the collectible space merges with Web3, social media [and] the rise of the AI influencer,” Haines said.

Indeed, AI is something that Superplastic’s new executives want to explore. “When you think about the quality animation and character molds and things that we have, in many ways, AI isn’t there yet as a plug and play,” van Djik said. “But, we feel like we can be on the cutting edge of using that to accelerate our storytelling.”

Scotto, too, is excited about experimenting with new technologies — and the breadth of the company’s business model. “We can do something in high-end luxury,” he said. “We can do something that’s very core in the music space. We can do something that’s nuanced in the toy world. We get to live across all these different spaces. And that is, I think, one of the superpowers of the brand.”