Friday, September 7

Targeting Toys: Mattel Recall

Last November, Mattel, Inc. received some praise in its handling of a recall of Polly Pocket Assortments. This year, as Mattel has endured a third major toy recall in a single month and we’re starting to wonder if frequency might erode its “Premier Brand Toys” positioning statement.

"It will have an impact. People will be looking at it, it will be in the back of their minds," Andy Brisebois, president of the Children's Safety Association of Canada, told CanWest News Service. "lt's a natural reaction and I wouldn't blame anybody to be very, very leery."

Really? So what is happening at Mattel? How are they handling it and is the media covering the story responsibly?

Having low expectations despite last year’s findings, we visited the Mattel Web site to see for ourselves. We were not disappointed. Mattel seems to be doing its best to test and retest toys made in China and most recalls have been made as the result of voluntarily retesting toys (as far back as 2003) under its new guidelines. The testing includes a 3-stage safety check:

• Mattel is testing all paint on all toys. No exceptions.
• Mattel has significantly increased testing and unannounced inspections at every stage of production.
• Mattel is testing every production run of finished toys to ensure compliance before they reach consumers.

"In August we promised that we'd continue to focus on ensuring the safety and quality of our toys through extensive testing of finished products, thorough investigation of our vendors and the implementation of a strengthened three-point check system,” said Robert A. Eckert, chairman and chief executive officer of Mattel. “As a result of our ongoing investigation we discovered additional affected products. Consequently, several subcontractors are no longer manufacturing Mattel toys. We apologize again to everyone affected and promise that we will continue to focus on ensuring the safety and quality of our toys."

Eckert also elected to publicly address Mattel customers via video, much like JetBlue’s David Neeleman addressed everyone last February. There are considerable differences between the videos, which is why we expect Eckert will have a longer shelf life than his digital media predecessor.

Why? Mattel confined the video to Mattel rather than launching it to a larger YouTube audience. While Eckert’s presentation is a bit stiff, his message is accurate, concise, and to the point. The message is that he and Mattel are sorry, concerned, and committed to safety.

During the video, he avoids over apologizing, reenacting problems in vivid detail, or infusing emotionally charged language like ”appalled” as Glenn Renwick, CEO of Progressive, did in his company’s crisis communication statement.

As Mattel has done in the past, it also places its recall prompt on the front page of its Web site. In the recall section, it makes it as easy as possible to identify the affected toys and how to obtain prepaid mailing labels for the return of those items. In some cases, Mattel identifies the single part of any play set affected (as illustrated in the picture above; only the cat’s brown paint contained lead) and they are offering replacement product vouchers.

Although some members of the media claim that recalls might dampen holiday shopping as 80 percent of all toys in the United States are manufactured in China, we're not so sure. The holidays are still months away and many stories smack of sensationalism. In fact, if Mattel continues to take the lead in setting safety standards, and other toy manufacturers follow suit, it doesn't seem likely that there will be fear-infused holidays ahead.

In sum, it seems to us that Mattel is once again effectively handling the hurdles of crisis communication. And while we cannot give them as much kudos as last year (only because of the sheer volume of toys recalled), we’re still impressed. I cannot say the same about some other players. In descending order…

We are less than impressed with any media outlet that asked parents leading questions like “So, how do you feel about toys that could harm your kids?” (Kudos to those who published the recall contact information.)

We’re concerned that some child safety advocates and consumer affairs spokespeople are making emotionally-charged statements like “This is America and it should never happen here!”

We raise our eyebrows at any competing toy makers too eager to talk about how this will give their toys a leg up this season.

And last, but not least, we’re disappointed that China’s ambassador to Canada resorted to the blame game: “it’s unfair to blame Chinese companies alone for the recall” and called for more international cooperation between producers in China and importers in other parts of the world to catch potential health hazards.

Huh? Maybe toys are not alone in needing a recall.



Rich on 9/8/07, 10:21 AM said...

Famous Last Words:

"Last year, Mattel was riding high, having reported profits of a whopping $592 million — a 42% jump in profits that it owed in no small way to Chinese toy factories that churned out cheap — and in tens of millions of cases — toxic toys." — The Daily Green

Ouch. This is the one message that could potentially derail Mattel efforts for a clean slate via proper crisis communication.

Rich on 9/8/07, 10:44 AM said...

More words:

"Mattel Co.'s third toy recall in little more than a month may be more of a blessing than a curse, analysts say, as the company appears to have done the right thing by weeding out even the smallest products that are tainted with lead-based paints -- and is doing it in time to recover for the Christmas season." — CNN Money

Kudos to CNN Money for not jumping on the "holiday toy blues" stories being bandied about by some publications.

Anonymous said...

Caveat Emptor - Let the buyer beware!!! In the case of these large importers, they should have had their own inspectors in place at the plants in China. I'm an American, and a 3rd party inspector who has lived and worked in China for the past two years. My clients hire me to look after their interests in the manufacturing process and I report to them on a daily bases.
My company does not legitimatize, qualify, nor certify products, but report what we see during the manufacturing, testing, and QA process in the foreign factory and report this back to the purchaser or importer on a daily basis. In this way my US client is informed of difficulties immediatly and before the product leaves the factory and can make immediate decisions as to how to respond.
We do not need someone from Washington grandstanding and vowing to "protect us", and I for one can protect myself quite nicely thank you by making choices in the product I purchase. So can every other American consumer by voting with their wallet. No one responds quicker than a Wall Street firm losing cash and the fastest cure to this issue is for the US importer to feel the sting of the devaluation of stock caused by lack of consumer confidence. This would encourage them to bring their own inspectors to the factory floor to protect the interests of the corporation and ultimately, the American consumer who already has many protective laws in place. To expect other sovereign nations to obey our laws is as preposterous as me being expected to obey Islamic Law in Idaho.
I remember that it was only a few years ago that we were saying "gyppy-Pan" to describe products from Japan, and now Japan stands as the premier example of product quality and craftsmanship, particularly in the automotive industry. NAFTA brought about a wealth of talent and expertise being imported to Mexican manufacturing plants to ensure product conformity and safety, why is China only invaded with legal and financial types who are all encamped in Shanghai having a terrific social time looking for streets paved with gold?
Why is the US not bringing more to the table other than the desire to get what we can from China as quickly and cheaply as possible? I see honorable persons in China laboring for less than $10US per day because it’s all the work they can obtain. Yet, because some US company was not responsible in checking the quality of the product during the manufacturing process, we want to get a bigger stick and beat the laborer with it? This is makes as much sense as starving peoples with embargoes in hopes they will rise against their own government. Where is the logic in this?
And now, just a little bit off topic but still relates...... :)
By the way, Senator Schumer - The definition of Czar: also tsar or tzar (zär, tsär) A male monarch or emperor, especially one of the emperors who ruled Russia until the revolution of 1917.
The term Czar is truly sexist, (not to mention dictatorial and despotic) and I would hope that Oprah, Rosie, or Whoopi take exception to this. It certainly is not in line with the Democratic principles in which I adhere to and fought for in Desert Storm I.
It is puzzling indeed that the US has become so comfortable with this term and applying it to unelected men of power in Washington. Harry Anslinger was considered to be the first Drug Czar in 1937, and was to wage "War on Drugs", (Truly our longest war), which one would not have to be a genius to see that we are not winning after 70 years. Nowadays we have waging a "War on Terrorism" and have a Homeland Security Czar. It is known that you and your colleagues feel this particular war is going very badly for the United States. Now you are proposing that a "Trade Czar" be appointed; so is the logical assumption that you want to wage war on trade? In consideration of how our "Czars" are protecting and furthering the US's best interests and defending our country, it would be appreciated if you would keep these thoughts to yourself, and refrain from your amateurish political grandstanding.
You are indeed an idiot and the last thing needed in the US is more government through yet another agency so I ask you, “Who the hell crowned you King?" Tom Ridge???

Rich on 9/23/07, 1:36 PM said...

You present an interesting perspective across many topics. Where to begin or where to end. All countries that move through an industrialization period a likely to experience transitional difficulties? Expansive government generally complicates and exasperates problems? How about this...

"The speaker, and the schoolmaster, and the third grown person present, all backed a little, and swept with their eyes the inclined plane of little vessels then and there arranged in order, ready to have imperial gallons of facts poured into them until they were full to the brim." — Hard Times, Charles Dickens

Rich on 11/10/07, 11:01 AM said...

An interesting side note:

Eckert’s presentation has progressively become less stiff with each new video. He gets a big "E" for effort.

Rich on 11/10/07, 3:52 PM said...

An additional round up is available at ...

Just keep in the the comments that the initial video was overly corporate and insincere was less warranted than some pr people who chimed in. While he was stiff, viewers seems to be forgiving considering it was Mattel's first foray into webcasting. Internet viewers tend to be more forgiving than they are with television interviews.


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