ST. LOUIS: Cepia, the makers of the popular Zhu Zhu Pets, kicked its PR into high gear after consumer-protection Web site GoodGuides accused the company of having high levels of tin and antimony in its toy hamster products. The day after the report hit on December 4, Cepia hired Zeno Group, and issued a press release denying any safety issue with its inexpensive, hamster toys that were already proving to be a hit holiday toy.
The findings from GoodGuide were then disputed by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission on December 7, and GoodGuide backtracked.
"The strategy was that we have nothing to hide, so it was to respond quickly and respond truthfully," said Natalie Hornsby, VP of marketing for Cepia. "We initiated more with the traditional media because the story was so sensationalized and it was picked up so quickly. And then also tried to drive traffic to our Web site. We went full transparent. We posted all of our test results for the product."
Online, Cepia worked with BSM Media, reaching out to mommy bloggers that the company worked with during the launch of the product. The toy maker also worked with The Martz Agency on PR during its launch.
Hornsby said the message was all about showing that the claims were false, and explaining that the toy industry has very high standards when it comes to safety.
"It wasn't just an accusation against Cepia, it was an accusation against the toy industry as a whole, challenging the standards put forth by federal regulations," she said. Now, the company is focused on reassuring customers. "This is something," she said, "that trying to get it out of the consumers' psyche is going to take a bit of work."
Meanwhile, GoodGuide tried to clarify its findings in a statement and on its blog.
"While we accurately reported the chemical levels in the toys that we measured using our testing method, we should not have compared our results to federal standards. We regret this error," the company said in a statement it released.
Cepia has events and more Zhu Zhu Pets outreach planned through the rest of the holiday season. But over the weekend, Cepia also reached out to retailers, such as Toys R Us, to reassure them of the safety of the product.
"We were quick to jump on that with them and ensure that they had the support they needed in responding immediately to the situation," said Adrienne Giordano, PR specialist for Toys R Us.
Going forward, the GoodGuide speed bump is not expected to affect sales. Hornsby said the company is predicting sales of more than 6 million Zhu Zhu Pets by the end of 2009.
"I don't think it's going to affect sales," said Laurie Schacht, co-publisher of online guide The Toy Insider and president of shopping site The Big Toy Book. "I'm not a safety expert, but I do know that manufacturers and the whole toy industry work incredibly hard, and the rules for toys to make it to the shelves are more stringent than they've ever been. So it's not likely that for a popular toy like this, it is going to cause a problem."