In this age of social networks, it is easy for a company's stumble to turn into a fall down the stairs. California Costumes and Playmobil both made missteps over the last week. In this post and my next I will review what happened and what we can learn. Let's start with California Costumes and their Open Heart Surgeon costume for kids.
Open Heart Surgeon by California Costumes
California Costumes is a company that makes…you guessed it…costumes. I reviewed their past products and it does not seem that they have a history of gory or bad taste products. Therefore it was a surprise to many and an open wound to others when they began selling an "Open Heart Surgeon" costume. It features a realistic heart, its bloody (it pumps fake blood) and it features a scary looking doctor. Oh yes, and its designed for children. Here is how it is described by one national retailer: "Kids Open Heart Surgeon Boys Horror Costume size XL 12-14 at Walmart.com."
Parents of children who have actually undergone these operations (sometimes multiple times) have become deeply upset and have fought to have the costume removed from store shelves. It appears their efforts have borne fruit.
I have reviewed the websites of those major retailers who carried the product and it has, in all cases I could find, been removed. In addition, California Costumes removed the item and issued this apology to a mother who had written them:
Dear Elisabeth, Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We always appreciate all forms of feedback on our products. This costume was not intended to offend or make light of any situation other than it is a Halloween costume. We have already taken this item out of production immediately and temporarily suspended all distribution. We will also have the image taken down from our website. Please accept our sincerest apology. Best regards, California Costume Collection.
As a result from this one case of lack of judgement, California Costumes is going to take a hit to its bottom line. Those products being pulled off the store shelves are going to be going right back to the manufacturer.
California Costumes is also going to take a hit to its brand equity. A retail buyer is going to have to ask themselves if this company knows where the line is between acceptable and not acceptable.
What can we learn?
1. We are used to asking ourselves the question: Is my product safe and if not how do I make it so. In a similar vein, companies that engage in edgy products might want to ask themselves a values question: Who might I emotionally hurt with this product and is it worth it?
2. Gross out costumes and toys are certainly not a new thing. In this case, however, it appears that California Costumes created an adult themed costume and then sized it for kids. So, its wise to remember that, although today's kids are exposed to a lot, there is still the need for a bright line between what is and what is not acceptable for children.
Financially, we need to ask ourselves this question: "Is the risk we are going to take with this product worth the damage it could do to our bottom line and our brand equity?"
Finally, we can probably figure that those who design, sell and buy costumes can easily become inured to dealing in the "gross." After a while, it is possible to lose track of what is and is not okay. Lesson learned is to check in with outsiders from time to time; particularly when you are dealing with children.
In my next posting, we will talk about Playmobil and its controversial Pirate Ship character.