The Dark Side of Marketing: Disney’s Baby Einstein Deception

The New York Times reports that Disney’s Baby Einstein videos have been found not to live up to its marketing claims: that Baby Einstein videos are “educational”. Disney was threatened a class-action lawsuit for unfair and deceptive practices unless they agreed to refund the full purchase price to all who bought the videos since 2004. “The Walt Disney Company’s entire Baby Einstein marketing regime is based on express and implied claims that their videos are educational and beneficial for early childhood development,” a letter from the lawyers said, calling those claims “false because research shows that television viewing is potentially harmful for very young children.”

The videos — simple productions featuring music, puppets, bright colors, and not many words — became a staple of baby life: According to a 2003 study, a third of all American babies from 6 months to 2 years old had at least one “Baby Einstein” video. Despite their ubiquity, and the fact that many babies are transfixed by the videos, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time at all for children under 2.

A few key lessons from this:

  • NEVER, NEVER, NEVER EVER deceive your customers. EVER. There is no excuse for this.
  • Bad news travels really, really fast… especially with Social Media! On a personal basis (because I am a parent), I’ve already posted 5 Tweets about this almost immediately after I finished reading the NY Times article. I expect more than a few retweets on this subject as well, since I have a few followers who are parents (and who have been advocating Baby Einstein videos). In fact, a quick look on TwitterSearch (http://search.twitter.com/search?q=baby+einstein) shows a growing chorus of outrage. Not to mention how many parents from my office that I’ve emailed. And the subsequent word-of-mouth stories I’m going to share.
  • Always have a crisis communications/disaster recovery/rapid response plan in place. Crises are crises because they are unexpected. Preparation helps mitigate the potential fallout. Make sure that you have something prepared for Social Media too.
  • Humility and “mea culpa“s would work only if they are backed up with sincere gestures. Otherwise, I can’t imagine a parent being too thrilled over the “not-an-admission” admission and the “limited-t0-four-DVDs/Videos per household” refund when estimates from The Washington Post and Business Week showed how Baby Einstein controlled 90 percent of the baby media market, and sold $200 million worth of products annually.

Additional report from Parenting On Shine, Yahoo!: The Great Baby Einstein Scam

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