Thursday, April 12, 2007

You Go, Girls!!

What does your car say about you?

That was one of the topics at the New York Auto Show last week as all kinds of people speculated about what cars said about their owners. Even sexuality was up for grabs as the New York Times reported this morning. Though, that truly has to be in the eyes of the beholder.

But that's true with any branding effort. Things say about us what we think they say and the only hope we've got is that other people know what we're talking about. (In the wonderful new musical Grey Gardens, the character Edith Bouvier Beale says of Westhampton, "It's a mean, nasty Republican town. Did you know they can get you for wearing red shoes on Thursdsays? They can, you know. Did you know that?) We didn't know that, but we laughed anyway.

Sometimes self-branding can be only slightly less clear than semaphore . But I digress.

But one thing that's more than clear is that girls love cars. They do. We've observed countless homes and play times when Matchbox or Hot Wheels cars became integral to the play. We've even seen Polly Pocket dolls shoved into traditionally boys' cars.

Now here's a big surprise: Mattel, which makes all these brands, saw that too.

So, they have introduced a new line of cars called Polly Wheels.

These are the first die-cast cars that have been made for girls, and they've done a lot more than paint them pink. They invested more than two years in researching how girls interact with cars, gender differences with play patterns and have come up with a line that's much more than Hot Wheels painted pink. They've developed more than 50 different cars, a jewel-inspired color palette and enough room so Polly can go riding. The line is beautiful, and with tongue-in-cheek, Mattel officially unveiled it at the Auto Show.

All indications are that this is going to be one of the big hits of the season, and the excitement expressed by the Polly Team at Mattel in Hong Kong and New York seems more than justified. (You've got to love these guys. They are so into this!

We've been handing them out to girls we encounter in our travels, and the response has been that all-too-recognizable wide-eyed stare and looks of joyous disbelief. Score one for Mattel.

And Polly shows no signs of diminishing. I was recently talking to a little girl on a flight from New York to Atlanta. She was in the seat in front of me and popped up to engage me in conversation. She asked me what I do, and I said, "I work with toys."

She disappeared for a moment. Then a Webkinz appeared at the top of the seat, followed by a little head. "Do you know what this is?" she asked.

"It's your Webkinz," I responded. Which was all I needed to say. I got a long story about her toy, and her friend who had 20 of them. This went on till her mother pulled her back down in the seat.

The ride was quiet for a while until my new friend appeared over the top of the seat again. She had that scowling look of "never trust a grown-up" on her face. She looked straight at me and said, as accusingly as she could muster, "Do you know who Polly Pocket is?"

"Yes, I said, and she's got a whole line of new cars. I've got one I can give you if it's okay with your mom."

There are very few times in life one gets to feel like a rock star.

- C. Byrne