Mattel, the toy manufacturer, is taking a nuanced approach to using digital technology in its products, in recognition of both the desires of parents and children, as well as the needs of its individual brands.

Sven Gerjets, Mattel’s chief technology officer, discussed this subject at CES 2019, an event held by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) in Las Vegas.

“What I’ve learned is putting technology in a plastic housing and calling it a ‘toy’ does not make it a toy,” he said. (For more, read WARC’s in-depth report: Why Mattel likes tech-free toys … and lets the consumer guide innovation.)

“Toys are really things that parents are making bets on. They’ve got to be lower-cost experiences, because parents aren’t going to make a bet on a technology; they’re going to make bets on a number of smaller [factors]. They’ve got to be [appropriate for] play patterns that kids get for the right ages and stages that they’re in.”

Speaking at a session convened by Living in Digital Times, Gerjets outlined another vital consideration that informs Mattel’s toy-based tech innovations.

“They have to be relevant for the brand that they are being built for,” he said. “That was a big learning for me as well. What kids want out of a Barbie experience is completely different from what kids want from a Hot Wheels experience.

“When we look across our brands – when we look at brands like American Girl or Barbie – those are great experiences where, also, sometimes your initial instinct is to lean in to tech, whereas, actually, the [best] experiences may be less tech.”

A case in point involves a Barbie doll launched by Mattel in mid-2018. This product represented an “experiment that really turned out to be valuable”, Gerjets allowed, not least because the toy was a tech-free offering, but had an added digital layer.

“We rolled out a Robotics Engineer Barbie – a non-connected, no-tech, ‘plastic’ experience. But we coupled it with a partnership with Tynker” – an educational programming platform that teaches children to build games and other digital content – “where kids could, if they were interested, go on to a digital experience and learn how to program,” he noted.

“That was a great experience where we could inspire kids to program, and inspire kids through play patterns that they love, but give them that step [forward].”

Sourced from WARC