A computer aimed specifically at children may seem like a good idea. Patriot Computers certainly thought so, which is why they came up with the Hot Wheels PC in 1999. These computers, which came with Intel chips and Windows 98 software, were targeted primarily at the boys’ market and the hardware was decorated with racing car imagery including the Hot Wheels flame logo. In addition, Patriot Computers had made a deal with Mattel to produce a Barbie computer aimed at girls. The boys’ computer was blue, the girls’ was pink with a flowery pattern.
Both products flopped. One of the reasons, according to analysts, was the crude attempt at gender marketing. Pamela Haag, director of research at the American Association of University Women’s Educational Foundation, told the Wall Street Journal that this type of marketing was ‘very out of step with what adult men and women are doing, and therefore with what children want – it really is anachronistic.’
Justine Cassel, professor at the MIT Media Lab and co-author of From Barbie to Mortal Kombat, also thought the computers were crudely conceived.
‘Just because you cover a traditionally boy product with girlish clichés doesn’t guarantee girls will like it,’ she said.
The computers were also criticized as bad cases of surface design trying to save a standard product. ‘It was just a desktop computer with some stickers on it,’ wrote Business 2.0. Shortly afterwards the products flopped. Patriot Computers went bankrupt.
Lessons from Hot Wheels Computer
Don’t resort to stereotypes. Dressing up a computer with stereo typical gender specific imagery was not enough to entice children or their parents.
Get designers involved at the start. ‘To avoid such costly flame outs, designers should be involved with projects from the outset, giving engineers input on product usability and interface issues,’ advised Business 2.0.