Mattel has chosen to tackle a very interesting problem with regard to its Hot Wheels line of toy cars, according to Business Week. Sales have been sluggish in recent years. The company believes that the lack of sales growth may be due to a "moms" problem. Specifically, Mattel believes that moms don't really appreciate why young boys like to play with cars, nor do they understand how boys play with them. According to Mattel Vice President Matt Peterson, "She doesn’t get why cars, engines, and all the shapes and crashing and smashing are so cool." On the other hand, Peterson argues that mothers do understand how to play with a Buzz Lightyear toy, because the type of play is somewhat similar to how they might have interacted with dolls as a young girl.
The company chose to gather together a group of bloggers - specifically moms who wrote influential blogs read by fellow women with small children. Peterson conducted a lengthy discussion with the moms, to examine why they chose not to purchase cars for their sons... as well as to talk about why boys do like to play with cars.
I have two reactions to this story. First, I'm not sure if Peterson's hypothesis is correct. Is his diagnosis of the sluggish sales of Hot Wheels correct? Does he really have a "moms" problem? Presumably, he has more data than provided in the article. Hopefully, he has explored alternative hypotheses as well. Second, a focus group might be helpful here, but Mattel will have to go well beyond a discussion such as this one to understand how to recharge sales for this product line.
I would argue that they should consider two types of additional research. Mattel needs to find some other categories of toy, analogous to cars, that have achieved strong success with moms. Is there another category that might, at first, have been hard to understand for the typical mother, but in fact did achieve strong sales. Why did that product take off? What made moms purchase that product? Furthermore, Mattel needs to engage in some anthropological research. My wife plays cars a lot with my five-year old son. Mattel needs to understand how some moms do play cars with their sons. Does their play pattern differ from the way dads play cars with their kids? How might understanding that play pattern help drive more sales to mothers? Watching kids and moms at play will be helpful in answering these questions.