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Mattel Goes Back to the Future for Hot Wheels

Stuart Elliot
The New York Times
August 28, 2009

“Hot Wheels Battle Force 5,” an animated TV series based on a new line of toy cars, is scheduled to make its debut on Saturday morning on Cartoon Network.

The toymaker Mattel wants you to be B.F.F. with “B.F.F.” — er, “B.F. 5.”

Mattel is reviving a marketing ploy that was popular decades ago, before activists began complaining about the blurring of the line between entertainment and advertising for children.

The show is officially titled “Hot Wheels Battle Force 5” — “Battle Force 5” or “B.F. 5” for short. The channel, part of the Turner Broadcasting System unit of Time Warner, is aimed primarily at boys ages 9 to 14.

That audience dovetails with the target market for the Battle Force 5 line, which is ages 4 to 11 “and a little above,” said Nick Karamanos, director of marketing for Hot Wheels at Mattel in El Segundo, Calif.

The TV series is a first for Hot Wheels, which was created 40 years ago. (Ah, 1969, the year of man on the moon, Woodstock, the first Gap, the Miracle Mets and Hot Wheels.)

The show is intended to showcase the new toy line, which includes some departures for the Hot Wheels brand. For instance, there are some vehicles that, at 1/24th scale, are larger than the mainstay Hot Wheels cars, at 1/64th scale.

And the Battle Force 5 line, scheduled to show up in stores in October, also features the first Hot Wheels figures — that is, tiny people. They represent characters from the series like the members of Battle Force 5, described as “an elite team of teenage drivers” who engage in “tons of crash-and-bash vehicular combat.”

Here’s an idea for a sponsor for the first episode: the teenage safe-driving initiative of an insurer like Allstate or State Farm.

The marketing plans to promote the series — and, not coincidentally, the toys — are extensive. There will be a video game, clothing, footwear, books, bedding, lunch boxes, balloons, skateboards and magazines.

There will also be tie-ins with Mattel promotional partners like McDonald’s and Royal Caribbean.

How could a cruise line promote a children’s TV show? Episodes of the series will be available for children to watch on the in-cabin TV network on Royal Caribbean’s ships, Mr. Karamanos explained.

This is a busy week for Mattel’s marketing. The “Hot Wheels Battle Force 5” TV debut comes days after the premiere of a video clip for a new line of Barbie dolls featuring a version of the song “Barbie Girl.”






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