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Last week, we looked at how US manufacturer Mattel had been doing most of the right things online to help manage its ‘toxic toy’ crisis. Still, the company had obviously been taking a pounding at the hands of bloggers and other online media after recalling millions of products earlier in the month.

Some figures from reputation monitoring firm Onalytica not only show the extent of this mauling, but also how Mattel has fared much worse than other companies in similar situations.

One example is RC2, which like Mattel, makes popular children's toys and recalled 1.5m of them in June after finding excessive levels of lead in their paint.

Onalytica’s monitoring system sifts through publicly available information on the web for keywords and keyphrases that are being associated with brands, and ascribes a negative or positive weighting to them.

It also can adjust the results to take account of the significance of each mention and the ‘influence’ of the site on which they appear.

As in the chart below, the company's figures show how RC2’s online reputation took a turn for the worse after its problems were announced, but not on nearly the same scale as Mattel went on to suffer after its two recalls earlier this month. 

Onalytica’s Flemming Madsen says:

“There are two stories here – one is about toxic toys, and one is about Mattel taking all the heat and not RC2. Everyone, including The Economist in its article about the issue from last Friday, did not mention that RC2 was the first one to recall. RC2 must be happy that Mattel is now taking the heat.”

RC2 and Mattel: Sentiment Adjusted for Influence

The obvious question is why? As Flemming points out, RC2 is a less well known brand, and although its problems were also on a large scale, it only had to announce one recall, not two.

Going first was also probably a help – when Mattel’s recalls were announced, they were adding fuel to the fire and were potentially seen as more significant by journalists, politicians and other commentators.

There is also another factor, at least in the second major fall that Mattel experiences in the chart – the head of Mattel’s supplier hanged himself, an event announced on August 14th.

Although not as comparable, figures from Hitwise also show how Nokia, which was also forced to announce a product recall last week, escaped the level of attention Mattel received.

The firm’s UK research director Robin Goad writes:

“Of the 20 top search terms containing the word 'recall' in the past four weeks, 16 were related to Mattel, its brands or toys in general. There were over twice as many UK searches for 'mattel recall' than for 'nokia battery recall' - an encouraging sign that even in these gadget obsessed times, we still care more for our children than our mobile phones.”

• As an aside, the situation has also provided more evidence of how effective paid search campaigns can be in generating traffic for newspapers when big stories break.

As we wrote last week, Mattel did not buy PPC ads immediately after its recall – but The Times and New York Times did.

Hitwise says the fifth most popular source of upstream UK traffic to Mattel’s website last week was the New York Times, and that 96% of UK search traffic to nytimes.com from the term 'mattel' came from paid traffic.

'mattel' was also the second most popular search term sending UK traffic to the New York Times last week.


Published 22 August, 2007 by Richard Maven

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