Do girls really need Polly Wheels?

I’m all for getting women into motoring and careers in the auto industry, but are from Mattel really the answer?

Will playing with pink race tracks and cars to go shopping really “spark auto-interest for the gals” as Autoblog asserts?  Does it “break “?

It is 40 years since was launched, but apparently the fruit-scented Polly Wheels are the first-ever toy cars designed exclusively for girls.  Stephanie Cota, vice president of girls marketing at Mattel is cited as saying that two years of market research identified “girls clamoring for their own version of Hot Wheels or Matchbox.”

Does it matter that boys toys seem to be increasingly addressive and speed-driven, whilst girls are pretty and socially (or shopping) minded?  Are such stereotypes an issue?  Why can’t playing with toy cars be gender neutral? 

Of course, it does expand the market – segmentation rather than integration but with a basic core product.  The toy industry is very pleased with the new product.  Some media actually see this as a sign of sexual equality and I found nothing criticising the move.

Mattel has taken a stand at the New York International Auto Show and has undertaken a lot of public relations activities to promote the new range.  Some, might think toy cars are propaganda for the car industry – designed to encourage connections with vehicles from a very young age.  If there is such a linkage, then will women be driving around in Glitter Peach, watermelon scented models in 10 years time? 

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

8 thoughts on “Do girls really need Polly Wheels?”

  1. Girls move away from little toys/ clothes that are pink very early. I think this has a very short life span for most girls: two years say? Not long enough to infiltrate the female mind into thinking they want a jessie car when they grow up. My daughter is eight, she’s stopped playing with her barbie car already. She’s like me, she likes shiny, see-your-face-in the-bodywork black saloons with leather upholstery.

  2. In my youth I remember a brief frenzy of “need-to-have” highly scented (rather creepy) little dolls with hot pink, bright purple, etc. big hair (they were housed in small, clear-plastic “bubbles” that were decorated with flowery motifs). They were definitely targeted at girls. Although the gender-targeted colour choices for Polly Wheels is hardly radical, what about the decision to add a fruit scent? I don’t recall my younger brother’s Hot Wheels set ever smelling of anything but kid grime. Do you think marketers have been scientific in determining that little girls are influenced in their choices of toys by scent? Or is this just a one off?

    (Note: I never received or asked for one of those imprisoned, highly stylized dolls. And even as a child, I found the scent that emanated from them overpowering and quite synthetic.)

  3. Jill – I agree in that girly toy cars are unlikely to influence purchases – and maybe it is possible to overdose on “Barbie” pink and in fact become innoculated to “cutsie”. It would be interesting if Barbie and other dolls did have more varied tastes in their vehicles than always off-roaders or sportscars in pastel colours (although I appreciate this style is easier to get a doll into and out of).

    Judy, I am not familiar with the imprisoned dolls but do remember various crazes such as My Little Pony where mothers reportedly used to spend time grooming the brightly coloured creatures. A lot of toys for girls are quite weird – I find over-realistic baby dolls a bit creepy.

    As for scent – maybe the boys’ cars should smell of sweaty socks and rotting snacks left under the bed, of is that too sexist of me? Wasn’t there a fad for erasers that had fruit smells (until little children ate them)?

    I’m sure a fortune is spent on researching children’s toys as it is a mega-market. And after a visit to my 9-month old niece last week, I thought she’d got some really interesting developmental toys – and some horrible noisy ones with tinny electronic music and lots made from plastics that cannot be good for the environment when the toys are eventually broken and dumped.

  4. I’m absolutely delighted you picked up (and enlarged on) my favourite imagery. So. I’ve just wasted about 10 minutes (but only after submitting an editing job to a colleague!), trying to remember the name of the scented, tiny dollies. Quite possibly it was the Strawberry Shortcake line, although today’s version doesn’t quite live up to memory in terms of nonsensical objects of desire (and sans cages):

    BTW, I found you some imprisoned dolls that you can purchase at Tesco, thereby demonstrating that isn’t merely a North American “option”:

    (P.S. I do remember My Little Pony, but believe it was a later marketing scheme galloped out to impressionable little girls and parents with open wallets.)

  5. On the bizarre imprisoned theme, I have a jar of pickled people on my kitchen windowsill that I brought back from the US nearly 30 years ago (don’t ask me why). There are two “people” made from stuffed stockings and sealed in a small jar. They have little visual appeal but have been with me too long to throw away now.

    If you’ve never seen such a weird item, I found one on eBay – – apparently they were very late 1970s.

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