Companies Without Conversation

This past week gave us several great examples of companies demonstrating their obliviousness to the changing world around them.

scrabble_v_scrabulous.jpgHasbro / Mattel

You know Scrabble. Created in 1933, the classic wordplay board game has been a favorite worldwide for decades. So when Calcutta-based developers Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla created a Scrabble knock-off application called “Scrabulous” for the social networking site Facebook, people started signing up like crazy. As of today, Scrabulous has 600,000 daily users but that’s only a quarter of the number of people who have signed up to play it. You’d think Hasbro & Mattel, who together own the world-wide rights to the game, would see an opportunity here and find a way leverage these social media passionistas to further promote their product. Sadly, they don’t see it that way and have issued a cease and desist order trying to get Facebook to take the game down.

From a legal standpoint, Hasbro / Mattel are well within their rights and in fact, as Shel Holtz points out in a response to Matt Dickman’s excellent post on this topic last week, companies must consistently go after intellectual property infringement cases to make future charges stick. Moreover, if the Agarwallas had simply printed a copy of Scrabulous and sold it as a board game, there would be little controversy about whether it constitutes a copyright violation.

Back in the days before consumers had a voice, there were really only two parties to consider in these types of cases: The IP owner and the IP infringer. The lawyers would shut the infringer down and that would be the end of it. Unfortunately for companies like Hasbro / Mattel, the world has moved on and, as demonstrated by the Scrabulous case, the consumers now have a seat at the table. They can’t impact the legal outcome of the case, but they can make the PR fallout into a big deal. Hasbro / Mattel either didn’t see that coming or felt it was not as important as defending the IP. What I and many other observers are suggesting is that a little creative thinking between the lawyers and the marketers could have resulted in an outcome that both satisfied Hasbro / Mattel’s legal requirement and managed to tap into the 2.5 million potential evangelists playing Scrabulous. This case is far from being closed and it will be interesting to see where it goes.


Amy Jussel is a blogger focusing on media & marketing’s influence on kids. She sent a letter to Target’s Corp Communication dept regarding a billboard in Times Square that some people have found offensive. The good news is that target responded. The bad news is that this is what they said:

Good Morning Amy, Thank you for contacting Target; unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with non-traditional media outlets. This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest. Once again thank you for your interest, and have a nice day.

target.jpgTarget “does not participate with non-traditional media outlets”?? Huh? Then what are they doing on Facebook and what’s that Rounders program all about???? And just who do they think their “core guest” is. I shop Target at least once a week and I bet millions of other people who “participate with non-traditional media outlets” do too. Perhaps if Target understood who their “core guest” really was, they would know that some of them can be quite vocal. Word of this “policy” spread like wildfire through digital communities and bloggers like Julia Roy quickly responded. With one sentence to one person, Target managed to offend an important segment of their customer base. What’s astonishing to me is that Target, which portrays its self as being cool and hip, is apparently clueless about how to engage with the “non-traditional media” segment of their customers. They don’t understand the brand evangelism opportunity that can be had from engaging with them (and I don’t mean in a Rounders sort of way). There will likely be some PR backpedaling on this one, just as there was just a few months ago with the Rounders debacle, but whether Target will make some fundamental changes in their approach is yet to be seen.

In a follow-up to his post on Scrabulous, Matt Dickman wrote about engaging with “non-traditional media” types. He asked:

When you look at your brand’s social media universe, are you looking for criminals or evangelists?

I think the first question for many companies should be Are you looking at your brand’s social media universe?


13 comments so far

  1. […] these lines, I can’t believe how some companies treat bloggers. Target, for shame! Filed under: Apple, Microsoft @ 1:49 pm […]

  2. Shel Holtz on

    It happens all the time, but it was me, Shel Holtz, who made the observations about the Mattel/Hasbro/Scrabulous issue, not my good friend Shel Israel.

  3. Steve Borsch on

    Not only do the not participate with “non-traditional” media, they don’t respond to “a guest”.

    Peek at this post and look at the volume of comments from people who’ve purchased — and been disappointed by — the Target house brand called “TruTech”. I’ve had nearly 20,000 unique visits to this post, have alerted Target’s PR firm, but nothing (insert crickets chirping here).

  4. Chris Wilson on

    I hate to use a metaphor that’s been beat to death this week, but it comes down to the Meatball Sundae.

    Many are willing to play with the toppings of social media. Some whipped cream here, some sprinkles there (yay! We’re engaging in new media) but few are willing to transform their businesses from the inside out.

  5. Doug Meacham on

    Robert, Thanks for the link love!

    Shel, please accept my apology. I’ve changed the post to credit you.

    Steve, Amazing story and of course not surprising. If that many people are visiting your post, imagine how many are contacting Target via “Traditional” channels and likely getting the same cold shoulder.

    Chris, I had not heard that metaphor, but it really says it all. Thanks for the comment.

  6. Miiko Mentz on

    Dang, I guess I’m not Target’s “core guest” despite being a frequent shopper at Target. It appears that Target is another company that just doesn’t get it and is not willing to shift their communications strategy and truly engage in a conversation. Great metaphor from Chris, and he nails it, that’s exactly what they are doing.

    What’s worse is that they don’t even know who their “core guests” are because I think a lot of us shop there on a regular basis. Shame on them. So much for brand affinity…I think I’ll cruise on over to my TeamSugar profile and delete their logo from the Brands We Like section. No SugarLoving for them.

  7. […] Meacham has a great round-up of clueless companies titled ‘Companies Without Conversation.‘ Doug introduced Amy Jussel a blogger who had a problem with Target’s latest billboard […]

  8. […] Scrabulous and Scrabble. Heated words over copyright infringement. Techmeme remains one of my favourite sites for plugging into web tech trends, though it’s a good six months since I joined any conversations there. Right now they’re running a nice one by Doug Meacham on the Scrabulous controversy: […]

  9. […] Companies without conversation: Hasbro/Mattel on Scrabulous and Target on working with the bloggers’ community. They completely missed the boat; When you look at your brand’s social media universe, are you looking for criminals or evangelists? […]

  10. […] where the public sides with thieves who make a fortune by stealing the design of a game (Acknowledgement to Sharon for that link). Encarta defines plagiarism as […]

  11. rapleafwatch on

    What if Target have already done the marketing studies and made up their minds based on extensive review of data? They have the resources. It’s not a decision that’s made without first obtaining evidence for or against.

  12. […] where the public sides with thieves who make a fortune by stealing the design of a game (Acknowledgement to Sharon for that link). Encarta defines plagiarism as […]

  13. […] Blogging is a bit thin at the moment due to other commitments taking priority, but just read a post that has to be passed on – Companies Without Conversation. […]

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