Mattel Responds to Criticism Over Diversity Toys

mattell public relations

If you’re going to be in the public square, you learn quickly that not every criticism is going to be fair, legitimate, or sensible. Most folks say they understand that, but when they’re confronted with something entirely ridiculous but presented with credulity, they freeze up, unsure how to respond. Toy brand Mattel recently found itself in that position after a pundit ridiculed the “Thomas & Friends” TV program by placing KKK hoods on the eponymous trains.

You may want to read that first paragraph again, but, yes, you did read that right. “Provocative” NRA TV pundit Dana Loesch spent some time recently castigating the beloved children’s program, Thomas & Friends, for a new storyline in which Thomas, and, presumably, his friends, travel across the world meeting new trains in other nations. The shows will include trains that represent different cultures and ethnicities, as well as new female characters, and these facts had Loesch ranting.

During her diatribe, Loesch aired a screenshot of Thomas and some of his friends wearing KKK hoods, while making the accusation that the show had “decided the next stop was Virtue Town…” before offering this: “I’m really, really struggling to understand how in the world there isn’t any diversity in any of this…” Loesch implied that her “point” was to suggest that the show set in a fictional island community near Great Britain did not need ethnic or gender inclusivity. The KKK hoods were meant to be a “joke” to illustrate the idea that Thomas must have really been racist since its inception.

Now, there’s nothing overtly strange about a fringe pundit making insane claims and ranting in a public forum. That, after all, is what they get paid to do. However, many found it more than a little jarring to see children’s toys wrapped in the uniform of racist murderers. The chatter in response to the program forced Mattel to put out a statement the company probably never anticipated ever having to make:

“Mattel has always made it a priority to promote inclusivity and kindness… We are not associated with images that promote hate and denounce any images of our brands that are being used to convey a message not in line with the values of the company…”

The lesson here is that you never really “know” what may be said about your brand, when it may be said, or in what forum. You have to be prepared to respond quickly and expertly to, literally, anything… especially these days.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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