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Martyn Yang is just your average blogger. His hobby: writing about a number of Hasbro product lines, including Nerf.
So it's not all that surprising that Yang, who lives in Australia, was eager to respond to an email he received from a Hasbro employee asking if he'd like to give away a popular Nerf accessory to some of his site's readers.
As it turned out, Hasbro's offer for free product to give away was merely a ruse to get Yang to give up his home address so that the company's lawyers at Baker & McKenzie could send him a threatening letter. Why? Apparently, Yang's website had a photo of a Nerf product that hadn't yet been released, and Hasbro jumped to the conclusion that Yang was the source of the photo. According to Yang, the situation got so out of hand that "strange people" came to his home and confronted him about the issue.
Needless to say, Hasbro's alleged actions, which are described in detail at Crikey, are highly questionable. So questionable that they're apparently the subject of a complaint with the New South Wales Legal Services Commissioner according to Crikey. And not surprisingly, Hasbro's shenanigans have created buzz online, including a Facebook petition to boycott Hasbro.
This is all bad news for the toy maker, which is probably regretting its behavior -- not just because its behavior was appalling, but because its behavior was apparently based on the foolish assumption that Yang must have been the source of the photos.
While the products in the photos in question may not be in stores yet, Yang explained to Hasbro that new products are often sold online by individuals who get their hands on promotional versions. Most of the time, the sellers, for obvious reasons, post the photos of their wares.
"I realise that the products weren’t officially released yet but it’s not my fault they were on taobao and it’s pretty common to find promo stuff on taobao/ebay that the recipients have decided to sell online," he wrote in an email to Hasbro, adding "I really can’t be expected to teach people how to use an internet search engine."
If Yang's account of what happened is true, it doesn't paint a very inspiring picture for Hasbro, a company which has already seen its fair share of bad news in the past several days. The good news for Hasbro: as with all social media backlashes, this one will pass. But that doesn't mean that all Hasbro has to do and wait for the furor to die down. Hasbro's faux pas is bigger than most because it shows a fundamental lack of internet savvy on so many levels.
The lesson for brands: it not only pays to act in an honest, transparent fashion, it helps to understand how the internet applies to your business. Hasbro probably could have avoided this ugly situation by contacting Yang and asking him about the photos of its pre-release product. But it also could have avoided wasting everyone's time if the people responsible for enforcing its rights actually had some knowledge of how Hasbro's products (including promotional products) were traded online.