Monday, December 14, 2009


This week's perspective from Orli Giroux Namain:

California-based consumer product testing and rating group Good Guide tried to run the wildly popular hamster toy “Mr. Squiggles” off his fuzzy little feet this week, when it issued a consumer alert claiming that the little rodent had above-legal-limit amounts of toxic chemicals in his nose and fur. Citing U.S. federal standards, Good Guide had media abuzz and parents and retailers in a tizzy last Saturday when it released the alarming results of its test. Testing the top toys of the holiday season can seem like a great way to make a name for yourself as a consumer product watchdog, but Good Guide CEO Dr. Dara O’Rourke (also a professor at UC Berkeley) should have known a thing or two about doing one’s homework before making such alarming claims. A day later, the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission said it had found no safety violations involving antimony (the toxic stuff at issue) with the toys. In addition, the toy industry association pointed out that false positives are not unusual for the type of testing technology used by Good Guide, and that decisions should not be based solely on these methods. Good Guide had to retract its initial claims, admit to error for not having used tests that actually met the federal standards, and went as far as to develop new guidelines for testing that involves sending results to regulators before issuing them to the public. That’s all good, but what was missing here was a plain and simple apology. It’s one thing to recognize you’ve made a mistake, but when you are not apologizing to the people most affected by it – in this case, moms, tots and the maker and distributors of the popular toy – well, it reeks more of sanctimony than antimony. Communications rule of thumb: If you’ve done something wrong, of course fix the problem, but don’t forget to acknowledge it, apologize and be empathetic in your response. Fumble.

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