Stuart Smith on the Maclaren recall

Maclaren, the British baby pushchair brand, has just landed itself in the biggest crisis of its 44-year history after mishandling a recall of its products.

Maclaren markets itself as “the world’s most safe, durable, innovative and stylish baby buggies and strollers”, so the recall is a huge slap in the face. The strollers are an iconic representation of the company, on which its reputation stands or falls. And the way things are looking at the moment, it’s likely to plummet.

Why? After all, looked at logically, Maclaren has done some of the right things. It has readily co-operated with the US Consumer Product Safety Commission over a recall.

What it has not done is reassure customers in its other markets, particularly its home one. It has also failed to communicate its point of view, let alone a comforting message. The lame suggestion that customers may like to contact the company and acquire a safety kit free of charge simply won’t do. Customers should be so lucky. The company website was inaccessible when I tried it and the phone lines most likely permanently engaged.

In a major brand crisis, a bunker mentality is the last thing you need. Anticipation, not calculated reaction, is the name of the game. Put out a message of reassurance. Let it come directly from the chief executive. Apologise (even if no apology is strictly warranted); and do it in print, with newspaper advertisements.

What Maclaren so far doesn’t seem to understand, is that small things are everything in marketing. Like the minute amount of benzene that destroyed Perrier’s primacy as a mineral water brand; the minor changes to a syrup formula that nearly did for Coke; the minute amounts of salmonella found in Cadbury’s plant. When commercial success relies on something as emotionally charged as a child’s safety, the importance of a caring attitude cannot be overemphasised.

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