The Hottest Toy of 2009
Move over Tickle Me Elmo, the likes of Chunk and Mr. Squiggles have taken the reigns of the furry frenzy during the holiday season. Named by Toys R Us CEO as the hottest toy of 2009 and the toy that ruled Christmas by Time Magazine, Zhu Zhu Pets hamsters were skyrocketing to toy fame before something threatened their ascent. During the height of the holiday buying period, a third-party watchdog group accused Zhu Zhu Pets of committing the ultimate toy maker sin: endangering children’s safety. The accusation had the potential to ruin the solid reputation of Zhu Zhu Pets, its maker Cepia LLC and its key retail partners. Zhu Zhu Pets looked to Zeno Group to help set the record straight. The quick response, proactive media outreach, and crisis management techniques executed by the Zeno team quickly blunted the negative stories, safeguarded Cepia’s reputation and ultimately exonerated the Zhu Zhu Pets hamsters. When someone said “Zeno saved Christmas” we took it as the ultimate compliment in our agency’s 12 year history.
Crisis and Challenge
Third Party Group Claims Zhu Zhu Pets Hamsters as Hazardous
On the evening of Saturday, December 5, San Francisco-based GoodGuide, which provides health, environment and social responsibility ratings on consumer products, tweeted, “Hottest Holiday Toys High in Hazardous Chemicals. If Zhu Zhu Pets are on your list, see our ratings, first.” GoodGuide claimed its test results revealed higher-than-allowed amounts of the toxic chemical, antimony, on the hair and nose of one of the Zhu Zhu Pets toy hamsters, Mr. Squiggles. A local San Francisco TV affiliate picked up the story followed by CNN running the headline as a crawl during Headline News. From there, the Associated Press ran a piece and within hours top-tier national television networks and online news sites were running the story. What the stories didn’t reveal was that GoodGuide’s testing methodology was flawed and did not meet federal standards. Zeno Group faced the challenge of correcting and stopping false accusations in the media before consumers boycotted the hottest toy of the year.
Setting the Record Straight
The truth was on our side, but we needed to tell it, and tell it fast. Zeno Group’s strategy was to align Cepia LLC with its most credible third party safety testing partners and with a unified voice to get the media to focus on the facts—Zhu Zhu Pets were in compliance with all federal toy testing bodies, including the Consumer Products Safety Commission and the world renowned Bureau Veritas consumer product testing company. Both bodies had approved the safety and quality of the toy, as well as all Zhu Zhu Pets retail partners. GoodGuide’s testing procedures were not in compliance with federal toy testing safety regulations and were not recognized by the Consumer Products Safety Commission.
· Provide consumers and the media with correct information: Zhu Zhu Pets were safe and did not pose a health risk to consumers
· Pressure the GoodGuide site to correct its statement and ask for a retraction
· Protect the reputation of the manufacturer, Cepia LLC, and its key retail partners
The Road to Exonerating Mr. Squiggles
· Zeno Group drafted a statement underscoring Zhu Zhu Pets compliance to safety laws and its commitment to producing quality products to respond to the GoodGuide claims in the media.
· Posted the Zhu Zhu Pets safety testing results and procedures on the ZhuZhuPets.com web site and included information about Cepia’s independent third-party testing agency, Bureau Veritas Consumer Products Services— leveraging that the agency meets and exceeds the toy industry's most stringent consumer health and safety certification standards.
· Leveraged Cepia LLC’s relationship with the Consumer Products Safety Commission and Toy Industry Association to add credibility and validate Cepia’s testing and safety claims.
· Offered interviews with key Cepia LLC executives, including CEO Russ Hornsby, as well as lined up spokespeople from the Toy Industry Association, who offered to do interviews and issue a statement on behalf of Cepia LLC. Our goal was to quickly restore the public’s trust.
Summary of Results
Top tier media outlets including: “Good Morning America,” “TODAY,” CNN Radio, CBS New York, “CBS Early Show,” “FOX & Friends,” the Associated Press, Reuters and Los Angeles Times all promptly updated previously run stories to reflect Cepia LLC’s statement and a clarification on the GoodGuide site that admitted to its testing procedures not being approved by federal regulations. On Monday, December 7, 2009 the CPSC conducted its own set of tests on the Zhu Zhu Pets and released a statement, confirming the safety of the toys: “The CPSC confirms that the popular Zhu Zhu Pets toy is not out of compliance with Antimony or any other heavy metal limits of the US mandatory Toy Standards. There will be no recall.”
- The Zhu Zhu Pets issues management approach resulted in the positive turnaround of the crisis situation. Zeno Group’s quick response and the CPSC backing of Zhu Zhu Pets safety helped to protect Cepia’s reputation and prevent a negative impact on crucial holiday sales.
- Broadcast and print stories concluded that Zhu Zhu Pets were in compliance with the standards of the highest testing bodies, exonerating Mr. Squiggles and reassuring the public of a safe holiday gifting season. Media included an exclusive interview on “ABC World News Tonight,” and stories on “CBS Early Show”, “NBC Nightly News,” “Good Morning America” and “TODAY,” as well as print stories in the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, New York Times, Houston Chronicle, Newsday, Seattle Times, Miami Herald and St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
- Overall, the media relations program generated more than 760 million media impressions.
- Cepia LLC did not suffer any significant decline in holiday sales and were widely commended by retail partners and other U.S. toy manufacturers for standing up to a rogue third-party toy testing organization and exposing its procedures as false and unreliable.