Two logos, one brand and zero hoverboards

The first in our series of articles celebrating Back to the Future Day. John Speight, Associate Creative Director, on Mattel and how their logo has changed (or not changed) since the 80s.

When Marty McFly travelled to the year 2015 in Back to the Future II, he jumped on a hoverboard to escape his arch-enemy Biff. Mattel had the great honour of being able to put their name to the much loved hoverboard - surely the most iconic (and elusive) toy of the entire 80s film Industry. Sorry Chuckie.

The hoverboard has become a thing of legend. Director Robert Zemeckis famously had to retract his “they’ve been around for years” statement because, unsurprisingly, Mattel’s phone lines exploded with callers demanding one.

In 2012 Mattel actually produced a hoverboard. It didn’t hover. It was said that it ‘glided’ on carpet. It didn’t. It was an exact replica of a hoverboard found in the movie but it didn’t do anything. It didn’t even require batteries. People’s heads should roll for this type of foolishness. Where was the brand manager pointing out the likely crimes against humanity for such a ruse?

On to Mattel’s identity. It has had two logos in its entire history – no mean feat for a company of 70 years and counting. The original logo is from 1945 and of its era – beautifully retro, full of joy and innocence and a crown wearing toddler. Back then, they were known as ‘Mattel Inc. Toymakers’ which, in itself, creates a sense of wonder and excitement.

Then in 1969, with possibly a good reason, someone decided it needed an update. Out went the warmth and in came a mark that can be best described as a sale sticker with ill-placed Helvetica type*. And this is the logo that featured in the movie and still in use today – unchanged.

Was it intentional that Mattel didn’t try and guess what their future might hold? Did they simply take the opportunity to build awareness around their identity at the time? Or, interestingly, do they stand by the thought that very few people set out to intentionally buy a Mattel toy? Ever heard a child say, “I want a Mattel Barbie”? Mattel has simply become the mark of quality and authenticity through the variety of brands they sell. Interestingly, Fisher Price (owned by Mattel) is intentionally bought because it hangs its hat on selling safe, robust fun for babies and toddlers.

I like to think that, back in the 1980s, during Mattel’s discussions about “What will our logo look like in 2015?”, someone made a strategic commitment to suggest it should never change and that absolute consistency should be the goal and focus of any future investment.

Hats off to Mattel for sticking with it. It makes perfect sense if you buy in to the notion that nobody sets out to hunt down and intentionally buy a Mattel toy. Unless of course that toy is a hoverboard. Come on Mattel, don’t leave it to Lexus...

*With respect to the designer, I’m sure there was a lot of thought and discussion that went in to the placement of the type.

You can read more about Back to the Future Day and whether the featured brands were successful in predicting their future in our Creative Director, Natasha Chance's article over at The Drum.