Mattel v. Moms? Nah.

The links in this post may be affiliate links.  That means that if you click them and make a purchase, this site makes a commission.  It will have no impact on the price you pay or the experience of your purchase.

I'm not going to say I think you've been living under a rock if you haven't heard, but this is a controversy that kind of blew up on Twitter the other day… the headlines from various media outlets said things like “Mattel's Mom Issue: They Don't Really Get Hot Wheels” or “Mattel Thinks Moms Need Help Playing with Hot Wheels” or my personal favorite, “Are Moms to Blame for Mattel's Stagnant Hot Wheels Sales?” Because I was totally thinking that moms don't already get blamed for enough crap.

I randomly came across the original article on Business Week, and sent out this Tweet:

Screen shot 2013-03-18 at 8.11.14 AMI sent it out and went about my day… a few hours later, I got a standard copy & paste reply from @Mattel, saying “We know many moms love Hot Wheels; we're sorry this caused offense. Our goal is to help parents & kids connect thru play.” I again responded, saying that I wasn't offended, just frustrated. Lots of us don't struggle to play with our boys! They then reached out and asked me to email, so we could continue the conversation further.

A couple of days later, I got an email inviting me to have a phone conversation about all of this. We set up a time and I wondered what I was going to say, speaking directly to this behemoth of a toy company. It wasn't until I re-read the article in preparation that I realized that my phone call, the emails I'd been receiving, were from Matt Petersen, the VP of Marketing quoted in the various articles. Oh my!

I talked to a couple of my mom's groups and some friends about what I would say, about thoughts I could take back to Matt to give him more than just my POV. I'll tell you right now: I did not go into this phone call intending for it to be a hard-hitting interview with the toy empire villain. I went into it wanting to have a conversation with him. I was not, admittedly, offended by the original piece. Companies with good intentions screw up all. the. time. The press chooses inflammatory words on purpose (Yay! More hits!) and frankly, I think people are often just looking to be offended. I read the article, rolled my eyes, sent a Tweet and moved on. This article sat with people in different ways, which I totally understand, but for ME, it was mostly just annoyance at another big, clueless company.

So Matt called, and we chatted for almost an hour. We talked about lots of things; I shared some things that I think Mattel could be doing better with Hot Wheels, talked about our personal experiences with the cars, I made some suggestions about talking to moms, and he told me about some things they're planning, changes they want to make, some of their motivation for the event that started all this… we talked about lots of stuff. Matt's a nice guy. He's got a couple of kids, isn't going to get fired, and really does want to figure out a way to talk to moms.

So let me start there: Hot Wheels wants to talk to moms, they just don't know how.

Matt first got the idea of a “talk to moms who struggle with playing with their boys” at a birthday party; he noticed that moms at the party had kind of split off into 2 groups, separating into boy and girl moms. Listening to their conversations, how each mom talked about her child was very different based on gender. The moms expressed confusion at their boys' craziness… “Why does he think it's hilarious to run into the wall over and over?” while the moms just talked about with their daughters… much less confusion on their parts. So the intention was pure, it's just the execution where it fell apart.

They should get credit for acknowledging that moms have some serious purchasing power. We're the ones buying the classmate's birthday gift, filling the Easter baskets and Christmas stockings, and probably shopping for potty training rewards. They're trying, this time they just failed. How often do we tell ourselves and our kids, if the first thing doesn't work, try something else! It just sucks for Mattel that this got picked up and spread so fast.

hotwheelsWant to hear something crazy about that NYC event? It was in the middle of that big storm in January. There were 3 moms there. THREE. There were supposed to be 10 or 12, but the weather kept them away, but we're talking about fewer moms than I invite over for a playdate on the regular.

Instead of attacking Mattel and Hot Wheels on social media, how about we tell them the best way to reach us? I told Matt about my less-than-exciting interaction with the brand at Blogher 11 in San Diego (basically handed a Hot Wheels out of a cardboard box and then ignored) and we talked about some ways that they could improve their presence *if* they decide to go again this year… they're trying, you guys. Just not always succeeding.

Seriously. The organizers of the NYC event did not sit down together and think, “Ooh! The mommies like crafts! Let's have them make crafty fun projects! Ooh! Scrapbooking! Yay! They'll squee over that for sure! Let's have the mommies scrapbook and then we'll teach them how to play with cars! Do you think they'll understand how the wheels work?”

Please leave comments that tell Mattel how they could better talk to YOU. They're interested in conversations with moms. Please don't wish ill on Matt or his job. He's going to read this post and the comments. If you posted or tweeted, he probably read that too. Let's take this opportunity to IMPROVE the situation instead of complaining and not doing anything to make it better.

Hot Wheels is listening! What do you want to say?

I have not received any compensation for this post, and all opinions are 100% my own. I am writing this post because I do believe that Mattel wants to do better by moms, and I would love to do what I can to help them accomplish that. I did ask Matt if he could hook me up with a hard-to-find die cast Rip Clutchgoneski car for Max, but I don't even know if that's going to happen, so unless that happens, this is a 100% non-compensated post. 🙂

Similar Posts


  1. We are very loyal to Mattel’s Hot Wheels line over in our house with probably 500 or so cars collected over the years. We love the size, quality, and variety of the cars in the line. One thing that frustrates me (and my boys) is that there are very few options for “non violent” pretend play with the cars. My boys would love Mattel to make the boy-equivalent of a Barbie house – a quality-contructed car garage, city, etc. for them to act out their “play” with cars. There are very few options for this on a “large scale” and a bet a lot of parents like me would be willing to drop a considerable amount of money ($75-100) for a quality, lasting option where the kids could act out their story lines without forced mid-air crashes, car-eating dinosaurs, etc. Toddlers/preschoolers are a huge market for these cars, I would imagine, but they seem to be marketed for the older crowd. I sure know how to “play cars” with my boys and loved playing cars as a young girl, myself. However, I get annoyed when companies try to tell me that my boys want violent play – they might someday, but really they (ages 4 and 2) love to do role play, etc.

    PS I have had the pleasure of dealing with Mattel’s customer service on two occasions when a product was defective and they were amazing to deal with. They are knowledgeable about their products, courteous, and are good problem solvers. I appreciate that very much as a customer and it makes me much more likely to buy products in the future.

    1. They had something like that – it’s a hot wheels city and it folds up and has a handle so it can be carried – inside is a ramp and a garage and it’s actually pretty cool. The one we have was my husband’s, so it ~25 years old and showing its age. But if they made a modern version, that would be amazing. Also -we’d enjoy more classic body styles and copies of cars that we see on the roads 🙂

    2. They had something like that – it’s a hot wheels city and it folds up and has a handle so it can be carried – inside is a ramp and a garage and it’s actually pretty cool. The one we have was my husband’s, so it ~25 years old and showing its age. But if they made a modern version, that would be amazing. Also -we’d enjoy more classic body styles and copies of cars that we see on the roads 🙂

      it’s this, but ours has lost all of its stickers:×1000/hot-wheels-city-30497.jpg?1266954689

      1. Dude! That’s awesome! I love that one!

        And I ditto your remark about more “real” cars… that was Jamie’s thought too… he had Hot Wheels of his dream cars when he was a kid, cars he could actually own someday…

  2. Glad you got feedback. I don’t have a boy, but my daughter likes Hot Wheels, too. I definitely had a non-thrilling experience at their room at the BlogHer in NYC last summer. They didn’t really say much or engage, even when I tried asking questions, so maybe ensuring their reps approach us and recognize we like cars, too is the way to start. I’m glad your chat went well!

    1. Exactly! I suggested that they put out on Twitter that they’re looking for people who want real conversations and have some specific folks to keep an eye out for. And I forget… are you coming to Blogher this year? (You better say yes)

  3. I have a 5 year old boy and 3 year old girl and actually they do like cars but they’re not crazy into them. I’d have to agree with the poster above about non-violent ways to play with them. I also have kids who are really into interactive games/puzzles and I actually have no idea if Mattel has any hotwheels games. I’m going to have to check that out now. I’ve definitely known moms who go through a learning curve with understanding how their boys play but it seems silly to blanket statement this for all moms, which I’m sure wasn’t their intent. I’d also like to see more car-oriented toys for girls/marketing that includes girls. I despise the trend toward princesses for girls. My kids see all toys as boy AND girl toys. Inclusion is big for us.

    1. Yes! I say all kids are crazypants, regardless of gender! I’ll never understand why Max wants to carry pockets full of rocks around, or why my nieces insist on making everything they come across into a cell phone. Kids are silly. It’s not up to us to “understand” it, just enjoy and interact with it!

  4. Play comes naturally to children and they don’t need instructions on how to do it. As adults, we sometimes forget how to play, especially on a young child’s level. What I would like to see are more toys that promote story telling and imaginative play– that DON’T rely on a Disney character or trademarked image to tell the story for our kids. Those toys leave us stuck when I’m playing with my children, with one regurgitated story to tell. Instead give us vibrant colors that aren’t genderized, themes that promote interaction without violence, and cars with parts that don’t break off when rolled down a improvised wooden block ramp. These are the toys that ultimately provide us the most fun and opportunity for natural exploration when we all play together.

    1. Hi Rachel! Thanks for stopping by! I will say one thing about Hot Wheels; they’re well made… and (I learned) come with a lifetime guarantee! You can send it back and get a replacement! (I don’t know specifics about if they can replace exact models or anything, but still think that’s cool!)

  5. This is why I adore you and why we are such great friends. People on the internet love a great flame war but ultimately… what does it achieve to get so angry? Nothing. A lot of people do look for reasons to be offended rather than try to find solutions. I’m so glad they reached out and want to listen.

    I think the toy market has been divided for a long time: Boy toys (cars, construction toys and blue stuff) and Girl toys (dolls, stuffed animals and pepto pink oozing out of everything)… Yes, in many case studies that prove that males like “boy” things and females like “girl” things – this is theorized that it has to do with hormones or learned behavior… but, no one knows for sure and there are ALWAYS exceptions to the rules. This assumption comes from a psychological and sociological place. Does that make the comments less insensitive? No. Do all Moms take offense to this assumption? Absolutely not… because some Moms don’t relate to how sons play just as some Moms may not understand their girly princesses. It’s situational and I think a lot of people are overlooking the intent from Mattel. They were trying to bridge a gap… and failed… but they were trying.

    Many have been battling gender equality for a long time and now companies are seeking out women ASKING “How can we change this?” and “How can we help?”…

    So, let’s help them and help the change so we stop seeing toys marketed towards one gender over another.

    Yes, the comments and assumptions insulted many and people/companies make huge mistakes. Mistakes are an opportunity to learn and progress. When I met the Hot Wheels reps at BlogHer I felt like they just didn’t get Bloggers more than they didn’t get Moms. A lot of companies wouldn’t have actively tried to change these things. Kudos to them for doing so.

    The assumption of gender specific toys has started to slowly change over the years and we are seeing more gender neutral toys and advertising (yay!). I’m happy to see companies TRYING To change this.

    Ahem… I’m rambling… hehehe

    Anyway…. I just don’t want to see a line of Hot Wheels that are labeled “For Girls” and looked like they were dipped in pink and sparkles. I’d love to see a range of colors (yes, the occasional pink or pastels), neutral colors and girls in the marketing materials. I do love the ideas of creating a math or color sorting game with the cars (I’ve done that with the kids) and I would love to hear more creative play ideas with the cars that think outside the box (shared by the company and other parents).

    Ultimately, I just want to see more interest in changing the direction of marketing toys towards our kids. If they are willing to do that then I am happily listening and on board. 🙂

      1. Dude, our kids would come up with some epic awesomeness with hot wheels. They actually put a bunch of them in their “Camping and Beach toys” bin 🙂

  6. After reading this I feel that the whole event was taken out of context. I have a now 3 year old son who is obsessed with hot wheels. For his age he has a big collection of them, I know that boys needs are so different from girls due to my oldest being a girl, I honestly sit down and play hot wheels or trains or tractors with my son and get the fascination with ‘crashes’ and speed and cars flying everywhere. I am not sure what Mattel is looking for. Are they trying to help moms that don’t get it figure out the car obsession? I would love to learn more about it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.