Fisher-Price Struggles to Communicate Sleeper Woes
Mattel’s Fisher-Price has been laboring for several years to respond to criticisms of its popular Rock ’n Play Sleeper, which allows infants to nap on an incline. Opponents say it’s bad for the tots. Fisher-Price has defended its product even as, earlier this month, it was recalled.
Critics say the Rock ’n Play Sleeper (pictured), introduced in 2009, causes babies to develop diseases and even die. The company defends the product as safe. The communications problem is that Fisher-Price hasn’t found a way to talk about this without seeming to blame its customers, even implying they’re idiots.
The situation is made more difficult, as it often is, by class actions concerning the Rock ’n Play Sleeper; Fisher-Price doesn’t want to admit liability, but it could do a better job of empathizing with worried, even frantic, parents.
The New York Times, in reporting on the controversy, noted the company’s claims in its statements that it is not at fault. The boasts of Fisher-Price’s marketing materials that by using the product babies can sleep at an incline are at odds with doctors’ advice that they sleep on a flat surface (and with no restraints), the Times wrote. “This is just not a safe way for babies to sleep,” it quoted one expert.
In the most-recent go-round, on April 5 the company put out a joint alert with the Consumer Product Safety Commission advising that the Rock ’n Play Sleeper not be used once the infant begins to roll over, at about three months. The company insisted that “for almost 90 years, generations of parents have trusted Fisher-Price to provide high-quality and safe products for their children, and we work hard to earn that trust every day.”
But that didn’t mean anything was wrong with the product. “We continue to stand by the safety of the Rock ’n Play Sleeper, as it meets all applicable safety standards,” the company said and then invoked an alphabet soup of standards-setting groups.
In other words, it stuck with the legalistic argument that it’s doing the minimum required of it. “It is essential that the product warnings and instructions are always followed,” it scolded parents and caregivers, and went on to describe where to find the warnings and to repeat them (“Use ONLY the pad provided by Fisher-Price”).
The company tweeted out a related statement. Overall, it has issued similar but not identical statements on different platforms and has also used the same URL (fisher-pricesafety.com) for statements, eliminating the earlier one, which is confusing.
Clearly, an alert put out April 5 jointly with the product-safety agency was more forceful, referring in its headline to the alert’s cause as “reports of death when infants roll over in the product.”
We continue to stand by the safety of the Rock ’n Play Sleeper, as it meets all applicable safety standards.
— Mattel’s Fisher-Price
A week later, on April 12, things had changed. Fisher-Price announced it was voluntarily recalling the sleepers — 4.7 millionof them. “A child fatality is an unimaginable tragedy,” it wrote in its press statement. After repeating its boast from its earlier statement about its commitment to safety, and after standing by its products’ safety, it wrote that the recall was “due to reported incidents in which the product was used contrary to safety warnings and instructions.”
Again, for unexplained reasons it put out another slightly different statement, this one mostly attributed to Fisher-Price General Manager Chuck Scothon, at fisher-pricesafety.com. The page included a video of Scothonreading yet another slightly altered version.
“In recent days, questions have been raised about the Fisher-Price Rock ’n Play Sleeper,” Scothon said.
Photo Credit: CPSC
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