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Mattel's high-profile recalls of defective toys have seen the firm attracting a huge amount of attention this week, but is it doing all it can to get information out to worried parents on the web?

The US company, which has been forced to recall millions of toys in the last few weeks, saw a huge rise in visits from UK web surfers on Tuesday, the day the story of its latest problems broke, according to Hitwise.

Mattel.com rose from a typical placing of over 40,000 to 541 on Hitwise's UK league table on Tuesday, and was the third most visited 'toy and hobby' site, up from 251st on Monday. On Wednesday, it had moved up to 282nd in the overall rankings.
 
Widespread coverage of the problems was responsible for much of activity - 31.45% of Tuesday's traffic to the site came from BBC News, the research group says. Forty percent of Mattel's traffic - presumably including some very worried investors - was then going through to shareholder.com.

To its credit, the company's online service centre very quickly showed up at the top of the Google UK listings for a search on 'Mattel recall'. It is also doing good things on its website, with clear navigation from the home page to information about the toys that are defective, and country-specific customer service sites with the recall information clearly displayed.

Surprisingly, though, it didn't appear to be bolstering its PR strategy with PPC ads in the early days of the campaign - either for searches involving 'Mattel' or 'Fisher-Price', the Mattel-owned toy brand that saw millions of products being pulled earlier this month. 

Donation appeals by charities have already shown how effective paid search can be as a 'rapid response' tool in emergency situations, and the company now has some PPC ads up on searches for 'Mattel' on Google UK. But that same search as recently as Wednesday and Thursday only showed a few opportunistic ads by The Times and New York Times instead. That's more evidence of how newspapers are using search ads on big stories to bulk up their traffic.

Ken McGaffin, chief marketing officer at Wordtracker, also makes a good point about misspellings of the company’s brand during search queries. A search for ‘Matell’, for example, doesn’t yet offer up paid or organic links to Mattel's service centre.

“For the most popular searches, Mattel is coming top, and it also has PPC ads. However, we estimate that 20% of people will be making a mistake when spelling its brand.

"When a company is in a situation like it is, it would really like to pick up as many people as possible. But at the moment, some of those searches are being picked up by bloggers or newspapers that have misspelled the company's name.”

Ken adds that the company has bought PPC ads to mop up queries for ‘toy recall’, but is not at the top of the organic results.

Meanwhile, the situation has also highlighted the role of email in crisis management, and online retailers’ ability to identify and warn customers that have bought faulty goods, according to this article by ABC News.

Etailers like eToys and Amazon have reportedly been sending out thousands of emails to affected customers this week after searching through their historical data. eToys spokeswoman Sheliah Gilliland said the company started distributing recall notices by email seven years ago: 

"We sent out 3,000 e-mails last night (Tuesday), another 4,000 today and are continuing to go through our database. It's not foolproof. If someone has changed their e-mail address, obviously we are not able to get in touch. But we take recalls very seriously."

With Mattel saying more recalls are likely, some in the US are also apparently calling for all toy retailers to build databases so that warnings can be targeted at the consumers that need them.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) allows people to sign up for recall notifications on its website, but the article says the sheer number of products involved means more targeting is needed.

In the UK, we couldn't really find any official equivalent, although there do seem to be independent services offering recall notifications.

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Published 17 August, 2007 by Richard Maven

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