Toy Hunting and the Future of Play: Mattel on YouTube

Mattel has been in the business of making toys for over 70 years. We don’t need to list all of the ways in which “things” have changed since 1945, especially in the making and marketing of toys (and everything else). Of course, you can’t thrive as a company for seven decades without learning how to adapt to the ever-shifting cultural landscape. Mattel has done just that, most recently meeting the fans of their most popular brands (Barbie, Monster High, and Hot Wheels, to name a few) where they congregate and thrive: YouTube.

Here, ZEFR Insights explores how Mattel has learned from its fans, integrating YouTube trends into its own content. We also look at exactly what fans are doing on YouTube, celebrating their favorite Mattel toys, from setting up the ultimate Hot Wheels custom racetrack to beauty tutorials helping Monster High fans transform into their favorite characters.


Barbie as Beauty Guru

Mattel has not only embraced YouTube in its digital strategy, creating channels for all of its major franchises, but has geared its content specifically toward their growing digital audience. They’ve added playlists to several of their channels that highlight their favorite fan videos, and Barbie has even started a vlog. In a recent post she did an interview with People Magazine. When asked what she hoped her fans would gain from watching her, she said she hoped “they get inspired by some of the things I post on the vlog just like I’m constantly inspired by them and the things that they post. I just love the social aspect of being a video vlogger and being part of this powerful community. It’s so great.”

Monster Fans

Mattel’s presence on YouTube is clearly informed by their fans on the platform. These YouTube creators make videos and devote entire channels to toy reviews, unboxings, or unwrapping mysterious surprise eggs as viewers wait in anticipation for the big reveal. But there are also plenty of doll enthusiasts who devote themselves to discussing the newest Monster High and Ever After High dolls.

If talking about the dolls isn’t enough, some vloggers have gone as far as attempting to become their favorite characters.

The Enduring Legacy of Hot Wheels

Hot Wheels is one of the most historic and beloved of all Mattel toy lines. There are generations of fans on YouTube that indicate the long history of Mattel does not preclude it from thriving on a platform that only came into existence during the company’s seventh decade.

There are epically detailed, stop-motion short films:

There are jaw-dropping race tracks designed to test the limits of monster truck collections:

Lastly, there is the emerging YouTube trend we call, “toy hunting.” This involves a vlogger documenting their experience going from store to store in search of the coolest toy find. This content can include a strategic hunt for specific item, or a more casual but tension fraught trip to a local Goodwill full of hope and speculation as to what might be hiding amidst the cluttered shelves.


The Future of Play

“Creating the Future of Play” boasts Mattel’s official YouTube channel, showcasing company-wide programming, web series, and educational clips. But that is only the beginning. Mattel has branched out across the platform, creating channels made specifically for its most beloved toys and icons, including destinations devoted to American Girl and Thomas & Friends.

What stands out most when viewing Mattel’s content is how well it has integrated YouTube culture into its own content. In other words, Mattel has done its research and spent actual time on the platform viewing content made by its fans, a tactic most brands have yet to put into practice as effectively as Mattel. Yet, the strategy is simple: watch, learn, and create content specifically for YouTube and the views will follow.


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