Canton, MA: Bike-lock company Kryptonite received a real-time training experience in the hyper-speed world of Internet communications last week when videos questioning its locks' reliability surfaced in chat rooms.
The opening salvo came when a member of bikeforums.net posted the information Sunday, September 12, that he successfully picked his lock with a Bic pen. The thread continued with some people attesting to the ability to pick their own locks. Videos soon surfaced.
BoingBoing.net, a blog that focuses on unusual subjects and technology, featured a link on September 14. Business 2.0's blog posted a related link late that evening after seeing it on BoingBoing.net. It contacted Kryptonite for a response because it thought it was a hoax, according to Damon Darlin, the senior editor at Business 2.0 who is in charge of magazine's website and blog. By Friday, the story was in The New York Times and well on its way to media saturation.
The situation caused some unexpected publicity for the Bic company, which released a statement to PRWeek.
?BIC Corporation is dismayed to learn that individuals are misusing its ballpoint pens to open Kryptonite bike locks. This is clearly not their intended purpose,? said Jill Klimack, a communications and PR specialist for Bic, adding that other products ?could be easily substituted as a tool to open locks.?
Darlin said he thought it would make an interesting PR experiment to see how Krypotonite responded in real time.
He was not impressed. "I repeatedly asked them for questions they never did answer," he said.
The company responded with a statement that asserted the lock's safety during a 30-year history and explained that it was rushing to get the next-generation product out.
The statement ended "...We are accelerating the delivery of the new disc cylinder locks and we will communicate directly with our distributors, dealers and consumers within the coming days. The world just got tougher and so did our locks."
This did not placate the audience. Many of the people PRWeek.com spoke to said the company seemed to be admitting that it knew something was wrong for some time.
Peter Rojas, editor of tech blog Engadget, said it sounded like Kryptonite knew the product wasn't secure and that it was hastening the next generation rather than offering a costly recall. Engadget also made a video of the lock being picked.
"That response felt that they didn't want to say how much they knew," said Rojas. "If they knew and they didn't recall, then they did the wrong thing," Rojas said.
Damin wrote the company and said its statement sounded like it was admitting guilt.
Kryptonite PR director Donna Tocci did not return PRWeek.com's calls.
James Horton, senior director at Robert Marston Corporate Communications, said the first statement didn't address the customers' complaint.
"It didn't address the question, equivocated, and was just plain dumb," Horton said. "It was a response that shouldn't be sent."
Horton said that the most logical statement would have been to say that the company was examining the situation to see if in fact the locks could be picked.
"Was it a bad response?" asked Greg Brooks, principal at West Third Group. "Yes."
"The thoughtful answer is always better," Brooks said, adding that the reason for that response was probably that it was run by a lot of lawyers.
The company has subsequently offered a free product upgrade to people who can prove they purchased one of the locks since September 2002 and a significant rebate for others.
"They've come around and are offering upgrades for people who can prove they bought one," Rojas said. "It sounds like they're doing the right thing now belatedly."
Both Horton and Darlin said this situation mirrored that of Intel having trouble with its chips in the late 1990s. The criticism bounced around chat rooms before it appeared on the magazine EE Times weeks later. In Kryptonite's case, that time period from chat room to New York Times was less than a week.
Darlin said that it is no longer viable to dismiss blogs, especially ones in a company's marketplace.
The long-term affect to the company has yet to be determined.
"I have three of these locks and I considered them to be good locks," Darlin said. "This gives me the opening to check out [other locks out] there."