Monday, June 18, 2007

Big Wheel

Remember that Stakeholder Rule I created a few posts back? Like here and here?

The rule says, A company’s position ought to take hold – and take place – in the minds of all its stakeholders.

What happens when the position, or the brand, keeps on interacting – even when there is no “overt” activity on the part of the brand owner? Sometimes, these brands maintain their solid connections to our culture while no one is looking. Except in the minds of millions of stakeholders.

In the case of one well-known product, time flies – literally: the Frisbee is 50 years old as of this past Sunday. I couldn’t have written a better story than Michael Liedtke did for AP, here. As you can read, the company (now owned by the Chinese Cornerstone Overseas Investment Limited) vigorously protects its trademark. Although the Frisbee® flying toy isn’t the “choice of champions” anymore, the brand still exercises a powerful hold over peoples’ minds and hands.

But Gary Richardson sent me the above photo from, and I wondered what happened to the original Big Wheel® ride-on trike.

Answer: it’s still rolling at age 38. Louis Marx Toys developed the Big Wheel and presented it to the public at the 1969 New York Toy Fair. Because of its outstanding popularity, many of today’s parents have special childhood memories that include endless hours of joy on their Big Wheels.

Big Wheel sometimes bears a registered trademark but (like escalator) became a generic name for any toy whose design resembled Marx’s. Marx sold the Big Wheel brand name and molds to Empire Plastics, Marx's biggest competitor, in the early 1970s. The ride-on got high marks for safety because it was built much lower to the ground than the old steel-type trikes.

Marketing surveys from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s put Big Wheel near the top of the list as one of the most recognizable household brand names of all time.

Today Alpha International, Inc., makes and sells Big Wheel ride-ons, re-launching it at the 2003 New York Toy Fair. Its use of the registered trademark is inconsistent. Target is selling the “Original Big Wheel” (no ® here) for just $29.99 – to very mixed reviews.

We Barons and Slaviks, from an older tradition, raised our kids on the classic steel Radio Flyer® #34 Classic Red Tricycle. We still have one in the garage we bought and assembled for our grand-daughter. But even Radio Flyer has a Big-Wheel-type ride-on called “Big Flyer.”

More important, though, Big Wheel continues to interact with its stakeholders. There’re Big Wheel Rallies, giant versions of the toy at one of the DisneyWorld venues – even the motorcycle version you see up top. Still interacting with your Big Wheel ride-on? Just google “Big Wheel Events and Promotions” and go crazy, you old stakeholder.

“Stakeholder Rule” © Richard Laurence Baron. All rights reserved.

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