A few months ago in San Francisco I had the chance to learn about a really fascinating program that the savvy team at Mattel’s Hot Wheels division recently launched: Speedometry. I remember Hot Wheels from when I was a kid with the ubiquitous orange slot-together track and the crazy cool car designs.
But like so many toy brands, the challenge is for Hot Wheels to keep up with all the amazing hi-tech toys that are available, along with ever-cheaper Chinese knock-offs available through stores like Wal-Mart. It’s no surprise that the Mattel 2013 annual report includes that “Worldwide gross sales for the Wheels business, which includes the Hot Wheels, Matchbox and Tyco R/C brands, were down 11% for the quarter.”
Of course there are cool new Hot Wheels sets being introduced each year, like the Airbrush Auto Shop set:
Still, how to rethink, to reinvent the brand?
Simple enough, take a card out of the early Apple Computer playbook: get ’em into the schools and create long-term customers. And to do that, they teamed up with The Rossier School of Education at USC and created a kit that is aimed directly at the challenge of STEM education: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
Here’s what the Hot Wheels team was giving out at the Dad 2.0 Summit:
The concept behind Speedometry is that a lot of basic physics principles like energy, force, and motion can be demonstrated with a set of cars, a short portion of track and the connectors to create a loop-the-loop. As the site explains: “Students learn scientific and engineering practices such as analyzing and interpreting data. But the fun doesn’t have to end when the school bell rings – you can bring Speedometry learning home! After all, math and science are all around us.”
Open up the box and it’s a pretty fun set:
Four cars, 7 track segments, and a plastic C-clamp that lets you not just start the track segment from the edge of a table or desk, but also lets the students try different starting angles and compare how fast the cars accelerate into the loop-the-loop when started at 0-degrees (level), 45-degrees or 90-degrees from the start point.
Then again, turns out it’s quite fascinating for cats too:
My 11yo daughter and I had a fun time experimenting with different layouts, starting angles, and even comparing the different cars (which have different weights and weight distribution. For example, some can stick the loop going backwards, but not forwards. How could that be? We talked about different theories and tried to ascertain experiments that would let us test to figure out which was correct.
Still, I’m enough of a kid at heart that I was just as interested in the cars themselves. And they were pretty cool looking, albeit in a fairly generic way:
I’m really impressed with the collaboration between USC’s Rossier School of Education and Mattel’s Hot Wheels team. This is a really smart way to expand their brand and remind children that basic non-electronic toys can be darn fun too. Now they need a radar gun so kids can measure speed, then we’re really talking! 🙂
Interested in learning more about Speedometry? If you’re a teacher, request a free starter kit! Oh, and they are way better than what I got, including 40 Hot Wheels cars, 16 orange loops and 100+ feet of orange track. That’s either one awesome setup or a number of different setups for teams in the classroom.