Nov 092009

Your products, 1 million of them produced since 1999 (that’s right, a 10-year time span), have been blamed for amputating fingers of infants and toddlers. You “do the right thing” by undertaking a massive recall and setting up a dedicated phone line and web landing page, where customers can self-educate and order replacement parts. The message spreads like wildfire through the web, propelled by engaged and vocal moms via social media channels.

Recalls are never welcome news, especially ones that imply our children were in harm’s way. But, unless flaws were the result of gross negligence and/or led to numerous fatalities or serious injuries, people are forgiving and don’t abandon companies with an otherwise solid track record. After all, product design is an imperfect science. This of course assumes the company works diligently to resolve the problem.


The scenario: a fairly typical case study in corporate crisis management. Your goal: to demonstrate good corporate citizenship and minimize damage to the brand’s reputation. Handled effectively, the incident is a mere hiccup in the company’s history. Have a miscue in your disaster management plan? You add fuel to the fire, resulting in negative word-of-mouth and bad will–and quite possibly customer disloyalty that impacts earnings for years.

Following Maclaren USA’s announcement this morning, the company made perhaps the most fundamental oversight prior to going public with the news. The most obvious and supposedly reliable place to obtain detailed information on the recall (its website) was flooded with traffic and has been down ever since (as of 5pm EST).

I have no idea what a recall of 1mm strollers will cost Maclaren, but I do know a dedicated server capable of supporting the surge in bandwidth would add nominally to the final bill. Instead of what should have been a 10-minute exercise learning about the recall and ordering the appropriate kit for their models (nine models in total are affected), moms and dads (and grandmas and grandpas) everywhere were shut out and instead relied on the media to accurately relay the message. In my experience, it won’t take much for the broken communication over this non-trivial safety matter to translate to loss of trust and business, especially amongst Type A, educated consumers in a market increasingly crowded by trendy strollers.

Am I over-dramatizing? I encourage loving parents and communications professionals everywhere to share their thoughts.