Crafting stories through brand design

To interact with a child, we need to think like one!


Have you ever narrated a story to a kid? We all would have at one point of time. The best part is when you create the story as you narrate, you let your imagination go wild into a limitless fantasy. You would have also felt the need for being interesting and engaging.

However, when the consumer is the child herself and the task is that of creating a story for her toy, the challenge grows manifold. I had the privilege of working with one of the most renowned toy makers of the world, Mattel, to revamp one of their ranges of toy cars, under the brand, HotWheels. The idea was to create a more interesting story around what a kid could do with her HotWheels car and in turn entice them to buy and collect more from the range.

HotWheels is an iconic brand created in the 60s by Elliot Handler, a cofounder of Mattel, Inc., who had envisioned a die-cast car to surpass the popular English Matchbox brand. He had wanted to create a line of cars for the boys just as the Barbie doll had become popular for the girl’s division. Over the years, HotWheels has grown into a strong brand of miniature cars by bringing out newer models, combining style with speed. It claims to have produced more than 800 models and 11,000 variations and sells almost eight cars every second!

The brand that began with small die-cast vehicles is now involved with developing a wide variety from Formula One racing cars to Monster Trucks, Mechanix, and Sho-gun Racers. HotWheels vehicles have even extended into other X-treme wheeled sports lines, including skateboard products and motocross products endorsed by Jeremy McGrath. It developed flexible, plastic tracks for racing HotWheels, complete with the famous loop that became the symbol of the brand to several generations of kids.

Today’s gadget-savvy, brand conscious kids are extremely knowledgeable and they know exactly what they want. Kids may be the youngest of consumers, but their influence on purchase decisions is immense – Kidfluence.

In order to appeal to this segment, it’s important to understand their lifestyle and be in line with their thought process. It was imperative that we speak to kids and understand their world. We embarked on the journey by conducting a Focused Group Discussion (FGD) with kids. It’s an experience in itself to conduct an FGD with the kids.

It was inferred from the research study that kids get engrossed in genres like thrilling horror, action-based adventures or just destructive activities. They look for variety and newness in every activity.

We also inferred that their imagination runs wild as they enjoy storytelling and get enthralled with fascinating cartoon tales or daily series. We decided to make the best use of their stories. Storytelling as an activity helps children use their emotions, cognition, psychomotor and social skills. There is a possibility to spark their imagination, increase interaction and in turn improve their overall experience with the product.

We tried decoding patterns in their stories, how they craft them, what’s the usual setting, who are the possible villains, what do they want to achieve at the end and how would they like to win. Basis these, we went ahead to form stories where we would create the nemesis drawing inspirations from the villain in their stories and then pave a path for their HotWheels cars to perform a stupendous activity and come out victorious.

Conceptualizing the packaging design based on these stories was the most challenging task. To appeal to the storyteller in a child and keep alive their intrigue and level of excitement, it was suggested to have a ‘Series Based’ packaging, where a story would tie a bundled product. The eight packs were classified in four different sets—Treasure Hunt, Radioactive Raid, Avalanche, and Alien Attack—aligning them with the price points. Each set had a different plot with a distinct nemesis to differentiate each pack as well as the set from the other. The miniature car could either pass through the nemesis or go and have a head-on collision with it.

The side of pack (SOP) was used to communicate the binding story, tempting the kid to buy the entire set or at least look forward to buying it subsequently. However, the idea was to encourage them to create their own mix-and-match of the sequence of events and come up with an entirely new story of theirs.

The packaging design had to dramatize the entire story and make it larger than life. The pack had to depict the setting of a perfect battleground where HotWheels had to emerge victorious against all odds. The car, the launcher and the nemesis along with the background were illustrated to the utmost details to create the magic.

In order to achieve a dynamic looking packaging design and to make the child feel like a hero, in each concept we ensured that the car was the main protagonist and the mighty enemy coexisted with equal prominence on the pack, for the game to look challenging and thrilling. 3D installations of the nemesis were created for maximum interaction and engagement, enhancing the experiential value for the kid.

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