Toys “R” Us found itself in the middle of a national controversy last week over the sale and subsequent pulling of Breaking Bad action figures in its stores across the country.
While the world still seems to be obsessed with the wildly popular television show about a teacher turned meth dealer, a mother in Florida was significantly less happy about its presence at her local toy store. She created a petition on Change.org to ban the action figures from stores, which tallied up nearly 9,300 signatures to support her cause.
Even though the toys are recommended for age 15 and up, many shoppers found the fact that the retailer released these figures, complete with accessories like guns and a bag of crystal meth, highly inappropriate. Widely recognized as a children’s store, Toys “R” Us quickly pulled the products from its shelves, as did Mezco Toyz (the maker of the figurines) from its website.
The Twitterverse exploded with tweets by users ranging from amusing support of the product to complete outrage over the ban. Even Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston had an opinion on the action figures, tweeting “’Florida mom petitions against Toys ‘R Us over Breaking Bad action Figures’ I’m so mad, I’m burning my Florida Mom action figure in protest.”
It seems everyone had something to say about the controversy over these toys… everyone except Toys “R” Us and Mezco Toyz. The two quietly pulled the product, seemingly hoping to sweep the controversy under the rug.
While a reactive posture can often prove beneficial in strategic communications campaigns, a large-scale response to a highly charged public petition is probably worth trumpeting. Toys “R” Us reportedly gave statements to select news publications, but did not issue any public apology or response to the upset petitioners.
Time will tell whether or not the scandal will have a long-term impact on Toys “R” Us’ sales and reputation, but the lack of responsiveness, ownership and transparency from the company during the controversy likely leaves its customers unsatisfied. It is safe to say, however, that family-focused retailers can take away an important lesson about selling toys that glorify illegal activity.