Hot Wheels Research Results Leads to Crash and Burn PR

If you Google the definition of consumer research, you get the following: the investigation of the needs and opinions of consumers, especially with regard to a particular product or service. In my world of marketing, I’d tell you that’s a good step one.

15366696_mHowever, an important step two is what you do with what you find. Whatever questions you’ve asked have resulted in a nice spreadsheet of tabulated responses that should enlighten step two. Sounds easy, but it isn’t. Just ask Mattel.

Mattel conducted a study to find out why its sales of toy cars such as Hot Wheels were flat. The research suggested it was because mom didn’t realize how much fun playing with matchbox-sized cars was. Step one of the research complete.

Now what do you do with this information? In the case of Mattel, you start to get the word out about your research findings, in hopes that buyer awareness of this mom information gap starts to impact sales. The VP of Marketing presents these findings of boys’ playing habits at a toy fair to an audience of moms. Good step two move.

Then in a Business Week article, the same VP is quoted as saying, “… mom has never played with them. She doesn’t get why cars, engines, and all the shapes and crashing and smashing are so cool.” Wait, Mr. VP, did you just insult moms everywhere? What you did was take the results of consumer research and imply you knew why mom didn’t realize how much fun playing with cars was.

Unfortunately for Mattel, this flawed and somewhat accusatory assumption blew up across mom-focused blogs and social networks causing some serious public relations backlash. Consumer research does in fact fuel powerful marketing plans, but making assumptions and insulting consumers with research findings can turn into a full-scale car wreck. Just ask Mattel.

By Jane Olvera Quebe
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