Thursday, August 16, 2007

Crisis Communications Online

I’m sure everyone has heard of the mammoth recalls of Mattel products.

I was curious how they were responding to this situation on their website, so I checked it out.

Overall, I think they have responded fairly well online.

Their homepage isn’t doing enough though. There is one small graphic on this topic, on the bottom right corner that says “Voluntary Recall Information”. Ironically, the teaser graphic is next to another one extolling their “Global Citizenship” (or perhaps Mattel thinks we’re so impressed with their corporate “citizenship”, we’ll stop thinking about the harm they have subjected children to worldwide). It would have been better if they were a bit more upfront, delivering a key message or two right on their homepage.

Clicking on the teaser, leads to a Mattel microsite dealing exclusively with the issue. The microsite is quite effective and has me reconsidering my previous criticisms of microsites.

While the microsite is small and simple, it has all the crucial info or clearly directs to it. The messages are clear and honest.

There are some missteps. There was a bit of spin with their headline “because your children are our children, too” (were our children not their children before when they weren’t being careful enough?). Also, there’s a big graphic on the bottom with happy kids playing in the field that’s inappropriate – kids aren’t so happy if they are sick from their toys or even if they have had to have a favourite toy taken away from them. This issue is informational, so there’s no need for stock photography here. Also, they place a media information section a bit too high and prominently.

I do like that Mattel’s has made finding out what products are recalled quite easy. Also, they posted fairly prominently FAQs that answer questions parents really would be asking and they answer these questions with a minimum of corporate-speak.

The most effective technique is a video message by the CEO that plays automatically in the top-left corner. It is fairly honest (which is the only thing they can do now to save their reputation) and clearly and concisely outlines their plan to prevent this from happening again. They must be worried sick about lawsuits galore, so I can appreciate that this is a difficult situation and appreciate, what seems to me, to be a sincere apology.

Though at one point, the CEO makes a comment that is an incredible understatement - he says “Mattel has recalled some products…” Try about 19 million!!

They also didn’t mention if any other of their partners in China would be facing death over this.

Update: Harvard Business School's "Working Knowledge" newsletter published an account on this topic, called Mattel: Getting a Toy Recall Right. The article touches on various online efforts Mattel used effectively.

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