Digital Hot Wheels And Other Outside-The-Box Moves To Keep Brands Relevant

Digital Hot Wheels And Other Outside-The-Box Moves To Keep Brands Relevant

June 18, 2021 at 04:11PM

With its signature products — The Barbie Doll and Hot Wheels cars — hitting the market in 1965 and 1968 respectively, it’s been a while since toy brand Mattel has been called cutting edge.  Which is not to say Mattel isn’t beloved or that it wasn’t a key player in a lot of consumers’ childhoods — but that when lists of innovative and highly forward-thinking brands are written, Mattel generally isn’t on them.

Which makes the firm’s recent announcement via Mattel Creations, the company’s collaboration and direct-to-consumer platform, all the more surprising.  Mattel will be releasing non-fungible tokens (NFTs) of Hot Wheels for auction as part of its forthcoming Garage Series. The tokens will offer Hot Wheels enthusiasts an opportunity to purchase digital copies of classic cars from its archive: Twin Mill, Bone Shaker and Deora II.

“Connecting to culture is core to Mattel’s DNA, and as we continually look to innovate, evolving physical product to digital art through NFTs was an obvious next step for Mattel Creations,” said Richard Dickson, president and CEO of Mattel. “Mattel Creations is the perfect platform for us to present limited-edition collector products that speak to our incredible fan base as well as attract new fans to our vast portfolio of pop culture brands. Toys as art, and art inspired by toys.”

Will It Work?

Hot Wheels collecting is a real and at times expensive hobby.  While most Hot Wheels “collectables” are worth less than $100 when sold at auction, there are a handful of super-valuable Hot Wheels models that can command tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction.

Those high prices, however, exist because nearly all the super-high price Hot Wheels are original versions from the late 1960’s, in mint condition and their original packaging. They are, almost needless to say, surpassingly rare.

Will collecting enthusiasm extend to digital copies of Hot Wheels models?  It doesn’t seem impossible, since collectors don’t buy toys to play with — a copy they can only look at, not handle, might work. Then again, toy collectors tend to collect toys, not pictures of toys, which means this product might be pitched to a somewhat different audience.

But that audience might or might not still exist.  As PYMNTS reported earlier this month, after explosively growing in April, the NFT market began quickly and dramatically cooling. The value of NFTs dropped by about 90 percent over the course of a month.  The NFT market could make a comeback, but that is far from a certainty as the market thus far has stayed deflated in June.

Which means Mattel’s big move to shift its products in line with the times might have actually arrive too late and end up being behind them.

But there are modernization moves out there that don’t require anything quite as exotic (or volatile) as NFTs and other crypto-connected products, as iconic LA brand Dickies and experiential retailer Fred Segal are hoping to demonstrate this week with the launch of Fred Segal x Dickies Loves LA, a uniquely-curated, 1,500 sq. ft. pop-up shop.

Iconic Styles Meets Modern Retail 

According to the release, the LA pop-up will features Dickies’ five most iconic styles:  the 874 Work Pant, Work Shirt, Coverall, Bib Overall and Eisenhower Jacket, customized for the pop-up by featured LA-area makers.

“For decades Los Angeles has quietly adopted Dickies as a uniform of cultural pride,” said Kathy Hines, VP of Global Marketing for Dickies. “As Dickies approaches its centennial anniversary next year, we’re seeking to celebrate that covetable stamp of approval by partnering with LA’s most passionate creative makers and LA’s most iconic retailer.”

“While Dickies has continued to honor their blue-collar credentials, the brand has also emerged as a mainstay of streetstyle,” said Brian Nyilas, VP of Merchandising at Fred Segal. “That intersection, bouncing between those two worlds, is the focus of the pop-up and gives Fred Segal customers an immersive experience they can’t find elsewhere.”

Additional shop features include the opportunity for guests to customize Dickies’ products with chain stitching, embroidery and screen printing. Designed to be immersive, the pop-up will showcase LA makers’ unique artforms through large-scale digital art boards and sculptures.

It’s a slightly less outre leap into the modern than Mattel is making, to be certain, but one more in line with the times as pops-ups are showing up in more and more places as consumers are coming back into the real world of shopping.

But the more interesting question, perhaps, is what’s next as brands and retailers are attempting modern makeovers to keep up with evolving consumer preferences.