Maclaren: mis-managing a brand in crisis

Great article in the FT on how Maclaren, the pushchair people, mis-managed a product crisis (thanks to my mate Mark for the tip-off). And this was no minor hiccup: the baby buggies in question, wait for it, cut the fingers off children. Ow.

Picture 1

The shit storm

On Monday, the company announced it was 1m issuing kits in the USA to repair pushairs sold in the last 10 years, after 12 cases of children having fingertips chopped off in the
pushchairs’ hinges. The website crashed. Phone lines were swamped by irate parents. And Twitter was full of messages such as “OH MY GOD. Amputations from a stroller?!” 

So, what can we learn from this?

1. Act fast and bold

This is a lesson we saw in an earlier post on Renault's handling of the F1 crashing scandal. It pays to be decisive, act quickly and boldly. Maclaren failed to do this. First, the 15
incidents fingertip mutilation happened over
10 years. They could have acted faster to solve this. At the least they should have had a properly thought through crisis plan, including an online element, ready in case hell broke loose.

2. Use the online world, don't be a victim of it

It seems McClaren seriously under-estimated the viral power of the story. In the FT article the CEO of the US business, Farzad Rastegar, said “Did I expect this kind of coverage? No I did
not.” As the journalist, John Gapper commented, "It was hard to grasp why. The words 'child' and 'amputation' in a media release from the US safety regulator would
surely terrify anyone."

I am also amazed that the home-page of the US business doesn't open with a reassuring message about the repair kit. Instead, it has some bland message about how important safety is.

Picture 2
Close this and you get a happy-clappy picture of a toddler in a pushchair! Look closer and you can see the little boy looks like he is missing a few fingers 😉

Picture 3

3. Empathise, don't lecture

As Gapper says, "Maclaren is the latest of many companies to fall into
the trap of being inwardly focused and failing to realise how customers
will react." McClaren actually has an excellent safety record. But its the way they are getting this message across that is wrong. Check out this quote from the homepage of the UK website, explaining
why repair kits are only available in the USA: "If a buggy is folded or
unfolded in line with our operating instructionsthe risk of injur is non-existent". Protesting that their pushchairs are safe if used properly is a cold, logical and uncaring reaction.

4. Think global

Maclaren made the mistake of treating US consumers differently. In our online world the news of the US repair kit has spread around the globe. Even though safety regulators in most
countries were content with Maclaren issuing a short-term warning, it would have been smarter to offer the kit to anyone who wanted it. Only now
is Maclaren is backtracking, under pressure from consumers and retailers, saying anyone can have the hinge cover if they ask for it. 

In conclusion, companies need to think like human beings. How would the Mclaren CEO have felt like if his kid had a finger chopped off by a product? And how would he expect the company in question to act. As we say, don't try to understand the consumer. Be the consumer.