Now who do we trust?

Ever since its inception, Consumer Reports has been the de facto trusted source of facts, figures and performance when it came to consumer products. As the image and reputation of other pillars of society have fallen by the wayside (think religion, government, business, sports, entertainment, etc.), Consumer Reports remained our one, safe haven in the storm. Not anymore.

Consumer Reports recently issued a highly misleading study of child car safety seats that they were forced to pull ONLY after worried consumers alerted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA analyzed what Consumer Reports had done, and requested the publication pull the audit.

This isn’t just a fender bender of an image crisis for Consumer Reports. It’s a head-on collision.

First off, Consumer Reports’ editors didn’t catch the problem themselves. Then, while they did agreeCarseat  to yank the report, there were no apologies made (they did promise a complete re-test however). Third, according to reports, the publication outsourced the child seat testing (see video) to a sub-contractor. I don’t know about you, but when I hear that a product has received a top grade from Consumer Reports, I assume THEIR experts have tested it. Last, but not least, what about the image, reputation and sales damage the erroneous study has obviously wreaked on the companies who manufacture the child seats? Will we be seeing lawsuits? Will there be some sort of ‘make good’ from the publication?

The other, big picture question that comes to mind is this: if Consumer Reports botched the child car seat safety test, what other past studies may have been tainted as well?

If I were advising the publication, I’d recommend an immediate investigation into their test standards as well as an aggressive public relations campaign that:

1.) Admits fault

2.) Announces an internal fact-finding investigation (and explains why and how many product tests are sub-contracted to others)

3.) Re-dedicates the publication to its mission of impartial and accurate product reviews.

Over the years, I’ve seen many clients in similar crises, opt for silence. Sometimes, the strategy has worked. Sometimes it hasn’t. In my mind, silence is not an option for Consumer Reports.

Now that their brand has been tainted, I’m not sure who we can trust anymore. Consumer Reports needs to reassure me and everyone else that this was a one-time event.

Thanks to Deb Brown for her thoughts on this.

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