Brand Loyalty and a Big Wheel Story

Like a lot of kids who grew up in or around the 1980s, the kids in my neighborhood trafficked in Big Wheels. Big Wheels were recumbent bikes for small children, built for the very small window of a child’s life when their body is too small for bikes but their mind is ready for the open road.

Big Wheels were about more than just travel—they were an opportunity for self-expression. While some kids went with the gender-neutral primary color option, others chose the pink/purple lady ride or the He-man themed gentleman’s ride. There was ample opportunity for streamers and stickers to trick out your Big Wheel and make it your own.

I never had to work too hard to make my Big Wheel ride distinct from the others in the neighborhood because I was the only one whose ride was designed to look like a tube of toothpaste.  While my friends pedaled around in their My Little Pony or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle promotional rides, my ride was a tribute to Crest toothpaste.

It sounds strange when I think about it now—what it must have been like to pedal around in a Big Wheel billboard that also looked like a hygiene necessity—but when I was a kid, it was a source of great pride. Nobody else in the neighborhood had a ride like mine. The design was sleek and I could pull off a quick-brake donut spin just as well as my friends. Looking back now, I can see that this ride also represented my mom’s unique foresight to save a giant pile of proof of purchase labels so we could win the promotional billboard Big Wheel. I feel some retroactive pride about that.

Big Wheels were the chosen mode of transportation around town for only a short window of time. We eventually moved on to skateboards and bicycles and first cars. But a funny thing happened when I moved away for college and started shopping for groceries for myself: Every time I needed toothpaste, I reached for the Crest toothpaste without any consideration of the other toothpastes who had never provided my primary mode of transportation.

For every other part of my childhood that I might have rejected, I stayed faithful to Crest toothpaste. Somehow it remained associated with the open road of freedom I felt as I coasted along the sidewalks of my childhood. I paid no attention to how many dentists out of ten recommended it. I just wanted to stay connected to my bizarre little Big Wheel that came in the mail.

I don’t know what they might make of this story in the board rooms and creative meetings at Procter and Gamble. Maybe I played right into their hands and their plan worked perfectly. Or maybe it was some kind of serendipitous connection beyond what they imagined. But it seems like proof of something other than purchase: When we connect what we do or make to a story greater than our own, it’s hard for people to forget.