Does Mattel Hate Geeks?

Pardon the inflammatory title, but that’s more or less the gist of Paul Nicholasi’s recent post “Geek Is Still a Dirty Word,” detailing his shabby treatment at the hands of Mattel’s public relations people over the last two Toy Fairs. Money quote:

More than anything, it saddens me that things like this kill my love of collecting toys. Why am I meant to feel like I am doing something wrong when I give free publicity to a company? More often then not, we even go so far as to buy the toys we’d like to cover, as it is quicker than trying to squeeze a free sample out of a multi million dollar outfit. Shouldn’t they be very happy we are so enthusiastic about their products? If they are forced by their bosses to squeeze 100 of us into a room all at once to shoot their toys, shouldn’t they be doing their best to assure that THAT experience is as comfortable, polite and smooth as it possibly can be? […] Why is it ok to treat me like this? Because I am with the “collector press” or the “nerd herd” as I’ve heard reps call us. I’m a geek, and my love of what they produce only makes me fodder for ridicule in their minds.

While I’ll admit I tend to be skeptical of geek communities’ tendency to immediately perceive ridicule from anyone outside their cliques, I’m not sure the “geek” thing is the true problem here. It might be part of it, but I think Mattel simply doesn’t give a shit about the smaller press outlets,* who happen to produce almost all of the collector-based toy coverage. It was far more important to give the royal treatment to retailers and, to a lesser extent, the reps of larger press outlets, if any (under this scenario, I chalk up ignoring the MTV rep more to incompetence and unprofessionalism than deliberate neglect).

Regardless of motive, there’s no question Mattel is doing itself a great disservice by treating collectors this way. They’ll never grow the Masters of the Universe brand into a massive multimedia franchise like Transformers or G.I. Joe if they don’t embrace the fandom. Why that lesson can’t sink in, from the executives on down, is baffling.

* Outside of a very small cadre of fan sites with close personal connections to Mattel staffers.

Comments now closed (30)

  • I think you've hit the nail on the head; it has to do with level of exposure. Mattel doesn't hate geeks, but they kind of display a dismissive attitude from what I've seen to any site or organization which doesn't have the clout to earn their professional respect. It's unfortunate, that's for sure.

  • Stories like this make me very thankful for the always awesome guys (and girls) at Hunter PR who handle Hasbro's PR stuff at Toy Fair and various other conventions. I have literally NEVER had a bad experience with them, and they treat even us small potato folks with respect and courtesy.

  • Absolutely shocking. Mattel? Not caring? No really, call the president.

  • While I've never interacted with Mattel's press, I've talked to many of them at conventions I've been through. While they do keep a slight bit of secrecy on some things, they tend to be very friendly and willing to answer questions.

    I even once had the opportunity to speak to Scott himself a few years back when DCUC 2 was first announced at Wizard World Chicago— I think that was 2007? Different times back then, but very friendly and willing to chat to anyone.

    I think, though, Mattel reps may get annoyed by the "collector community" at times, or at least the most passionate and loud people. How many times can you get asked about Ambush Bug until you snap?

    • To be fair, I'm not sure how much Scott was involved with what went happened with Paul, aside possibly from the reference to his "Mattel Press Rep for some years" during the Batman Legacy incident in February 2011 (though if that's the case, he certainly should have been able to participate in the Q&As, since Scott is the one who sets those up).

      • It does seem odd that they would almost segregate "collectors" from other lines. The whole situation seems screwed up. There are clearly collectors out there who are more negative or at least worrisome, and clearly there are others who aren't. It just seems like they group them all together to be safe.

        It should be known that the people working at Mattel are a mix between collector-types and college educated business people who have little to no knowledge of the lines they are working on outside of business sense. They aren't fans or collectors, they are business people. I don't expect them to always understand or sympathize with people who are unfortunately grouped with the fans who may actually give them headaches, or that they don't even respect.

  • Mattel treats geek sites this way because they can and the geek sites will cover its products anyway. The solution would be for anyone who feels slighted to simply stop giving coverage to Mattel products. There are lots of other toy companies out there that are much more deserving of coverage and would love to get the kind of press that Mattel gets. If the press starts dropping off, Mattel might change its tune. Even if it doesn’t, it wouldn’t deserve our interest anyway.

  • I think it is also possible that the people doing cons like SDCC and the people doing the traditional Toy Fair are NOT the same groups out of marketing at this point. The treatement of smaller press at SDCC is far, far better, and I think it's because that marketing group gets it. The folks doing Toy Fair are likely to be the old school group that still thinks this whole internet thing is a flash in the pan.

  • First you have to remember that Toy Fair is NOT about the fans, it's about getting product in front of retailers to make sales. It has only been about 2 or 3 years that fans have been allowed in to the show. Before that you had to have some connection to the toy industry or retailers to get in. Fans should be grateful they are allowed into the show at all on these "fan appreciation nights". That said the reps should also treat the fans that attend with the same courtesy as the retailers because after all the fans represent (a small percentage of) the end customers. If you alienate your end customers then it won't matter how well you sell to the retailers.

    Second, I had a bad experience at the Mattel booth at SDCC last year. I was interested in the 3 3/4" Green Lantern figures and asked a Mattel rep about them. He replied that he didn't work on that scale and that he thought someone else across the booth did. He acted like he was going to go get them then another rep stopped by and they started having a conversation while completely ignoring me. I stood there for a good 2 or 3 minutes waiting for the guy to finish his conversation and go get the other rep (who I didn't see) to answer my questions. Instead they continued to ignore me and then both walked away to talk to another rep. Compare this with the Sideshow Collectibles rep who walked me around their booth looking for the rep who could answer my questions about their 12" G.I. Joe line, found the person, introduced me and then thanked me before going to take care of someone else. I ended up talking to that rep for about 20 minutes and he gave me his undivided attention that entire time. So saying that the Mattel team at SDCC is different from the Toy Fair team in the way they treat fans is far from accurate.

    • right, toy fair is not about the fans… but paul is press. he's not a retailer, whom the show is primarily intended for, but good press is crucial to the success of any product line being offered on the mass scale. and realistically, toy fair has been less and less about retailers and the order system over the last decade or so, and become more and more an expo for the lines being offered over the next year… it's other words, it's press dependent.

      and paul's treatment wasn't just confused or poorly organized, it was outright hostile. that's not conducive to a good experience on either side of the table, and even business people are taught you can't openly shit on your customer's face. you have to masquerade the steamer behind attempts to look civil and truly concerned about the patron's patronage… just like in politics.

  • Two words describe Mattel’s inability to adapt to the needs of its customer base: unconscious incompetence.
    It makes perfect sense that fan press should be swarming Toy Fair. Much of Hasbro’s and Mattel’s and Lego’s and so many other maker’s product is being bought up by Gen X and Gen Y, and if I were a retailer I’d watch very closely which products the fans lose their minds over and buy that. It might only be a few more years that these generations continue to plunk their money into toys, so get ’em while you can.

  • I too was rudely removed from the 'extended' galleries during the Mattel Collector Event at about the exact same time, and it went down just as Paul described in his article. While I think there was an element of misunderstanding, it was still all poorly handled and a drastic change in attitude from previous years, where that had been one of the most friendly and open parts of the whole show for me. Missing out on providing the sort of complete Mattel coverage that I have in the past was a real letdown – and less free exposure for them of course. I have to wonder if Paul and I, having now written about this treatment publicly, will not be invited back to participate at all next year.

    • As Charlie said, in previous years, they let the people from the "Collector Event" into the overall Mattel booth of non-collector lines. We took pics, had a good time.
      For whatever reason, this year that section was not open to the people there for the Collector Event.

      While I think that Paul was jerked around some with the appointment fiasco, there's a point that is easy to overlook in all the dramatics:
      "I made sure to express an interest in covering “Girl Toys” as well and since we had no problems doing so in previous years, we didn’t think twice about it." Ah yes – he ASSUMED he would be allowed into the other areas.
      "Moments later, I was approached by Rachel Cooper, Manager of Public Relations, who put out her hand in a “Stop” motion as if I’d done something wrong and told me I did not belong there. I said clearly I did belong there, as her press reps know who I am! I wasn’t a stranger or a Sunday afternoon blogger who woke up one day, decided to cover the show and immediately thought I was entitled to the run of the place. I have been covering Toy Fair for over 10 years. I made an appointment and we were there…in the middle of it! She explained my place was back with the “collector press” in the other room. I explained I’d rather not be lumped with them, first off, as I cover far more than “boy’s toys”, and was asked specifically to cover this room and since we’d done so every year previous, I wasn’t sure what the problem was."
      If Paul has an appointment to see the whole room, why is he there during the collector event?

      But its cool – everyone can go back to Matty hate now. I'm sure we'll see a follow-up to this soon with an answer from Mattel.

      • What Paul wrote was, " I made an appointment and we were there…in the middle of it!" So perhaps there was a misunderstanding, but it sounds like Paul had made an appointment to see the MH room, and was under the impression said appointment was to take place during the collector event.

        As for his "assumption," I really don't think it's unreasonable for a press member to think that Mattel would be all too happy for more coverage, especially when said coverage was allowed in previous years.

        Again, while I'm sure it's annoying not to be able to cover things you were able to cover in the past, it seems to me what irked Paul (and Charlie) much more was the rudeness of how they were handled (however real or perceived).

        • I'm actually frustrated with myself in all of this too! I know better than to ever take pics of anything without asking first, or to make any assumptions at Toy Fair, but that's exactly what I did at Mattel and I got burned for it. Like I said – I definitely admit that there was abundant misunderstanding involved, by me as well! It was just sort of a bummer. I think what might be causing all the secrecy this year is that the Batman Movie toys were in the separate room, and were clearly off-limits for photos. It's likely they had to ratchet up their security due to the sensitivity of those products.

        • "I think what might be causing all the secrecy this year is that the Batman Movie toys were in the separate room, and were clearly off-limits for photos. It's likely they had to ratchet up their security due to the sensitivity of those products."

          Wait wait wait. Wait. OK – now THAT is a horse of a very different color.

          I did not know about this, if true (which may be my own fault for not reading enough online coverage).

          If there were Dark Knight Rises toys that were to be kept away from the fan press, then that would definitely explain the over-protectiveness on the part of the PR people. And a collector wandering into the Monster High area might be exactly the sort of thing to get their paranoia up. Perhaps that's what Julius was referring to?

          Of course, it doesn't explain the mix-up regarding the meeting times, but it does potentially partly explain the perceived rudeness of the PR people.

        • Yes – I suspect that's what you'll be hearing from those guys – and I certainly understand Mattel's concern. I saw the display, and it had a trailer running on a big screen, etc, and I was certainly not planning on shooting any pics of it, but I imagine that they wanted to be safe rather than sorry on that angle. After a full day at the show, and starting out at 7am with Lego that morning, my brain was just too slow to realize that maybe I shouldn't be in there this year before they pounced upon me and hustled me out. I don't think you missed it anyplace – I actually think this is the first it's been mentioned.

        • Poe,
          I don't know Paul personally, so I have no horses in this race.
          If I had been at the event this year, I would have been standing next to Charlie getting kicked out of the Monster High room, or starting a ruckus when he came back and told me about it.

          What I would like to hear from Paul is if he had specifically been granted (and confirmed) a separate appointment OUTSIDE of the Collector Event. It's easy to spin the story into "Mattel hates nerds", but we have to think of this in logical terms – if the only appointment he had was the collector event, he doesn't have the clearance to get into the other rooms. A change from the past, sure. Handled improperly – maybe. We don't know the full extent of WHY they were so harsh to my best buddy Charlie and the other people mentioned…I'm sure Julius will tell us.

  • bottom line:

    There are tons of out of work people in America and Europe would gladly do the jobs that the mean-spirited-borderline-incompetent folks at DR and Mattel obviously don't.

    Give them the jobs.

  • …Poe, you got it in just a few words:

    "… I think Mattel simply doesn’t give a shit…"

    Just stop right there, that's all you need to say. So long as the money keps coming in, Mattel simply doesn't give a shit.

  • I have had a bad Mattel taste in my mouth for a long time, they just don't seem to know how to treat ppl, even those giving them money or helping them make it.  The real problem is this, who are "geeks"? Well many of us are college educated professionals, who hold in many case multiple degrees,  are effective communicators who have sway over the decisions of those around us. Personally I am a teacher I talk to over 100 kids a day, and awhile 90% of our time together is about content and curriculum, I spend some time telling them about my hobbies or a particularly great toy I found and listening to their interests. Or a lot of us are family men with kids of our own. I have 3 and my little girl loves monster high toys, and her kind of passion for toy or line is the birth place of collectors and a toys collectibility or at least its the "traditional" customer the seem to want.  The term "collector press" is insulting, as stated in most cases who else is covering dcuc, motc, or even monster high….and why do old lady's that collect Barbie have more clout,or respectability? Mattel's treatment of their customer base is the main reason i refuse to subscribe to any matty offerings, even though I covet many of the Internet only toys.Poe, Paul keep fighting the good fight and thanks for the insight.

  • I know it's most likely futile responding here as I don't get the sense myself or any of the AFi staff are well regarded over here, but there is actually a rational explanation of what happened to Paul and David… and when I have some spare time I'll post it. I don't think it will make things "better" but it will at least fill in some pieces. It's not the conspiracy everyone is making it out to be.

    • If any man seeks the high regard of his fellows, he need only look to his own actions. I am not sure anyone is calling it a "conspiracy", so lets try not introduce that kind of language and attribute it to this site or its readers. It is certainly true that many folks, both here and elsewhere, are feeling uncharitable toward Mattel for a number of reasons, however.

      Let's strip this of all the "geek" artifacts: Man makes appointment with company, either company, man or both somehow misunderstand the scope of said appointment, company appears to offer olive branch, but fails again to follow through on that due to, apparently, further misunderstandings.

      If – if – Paul has the emails he describes, then it will be pretty clear the second "misunderstanding", at least, was entirely on Mattel's side. And if that is the case, then yes, it certainly would appear that Mattel specifically snubbed Paul.

      I think we would all welcome further enlightenment.

    • Daniel,

      I used to love your site. I remember feeling you got a bum deal over at AFT; hence, when you founded AFI, I gladly followed. As time has gone on your site seems to have become something of a Mattel fan site. I understand defending your friends, but it truly seems to me Mattel can do no wrong in AFI's opinion.

      It looks as if you have a vested interest in how Mattel does. Maybe my mistake is in believing you are an unbiased toy news site instead of an arm of Mattel. Plus, I will state as I always have, that when any site or person gets hundreds to thousands of dollars in free product a year to review, that site/person ceases to be an unbiased reviewer and becomes a paid corporate spokesperson. Sorry, you seem like nice guys, but everytime AFI opens its keyboards up to defend Mattel in the fashion you do, it turns me off of both you and Mattel. As a result I no longer have your site bookmarked.

      I want…crave unbiased info on the toys I collect. I am going to frequent the sites where I get that. AFI is not one of those sites anymore. As Toy Otter says, it is your site and you can do whatever you want. What you apparently want has lost this fan.

      Thanks for reading…I don't expect agreement…just needed to get that off my chest. Based on your commnt, I wanted you to know why one collector, at least, may have given you that impression.

      Sincerely,

      dean

  • I like Paul and all, but am I the only one the felt like his article was condescending to "geek" press? He basically made out like he was a big deal and runs an official website and that he shouldn't have to spend time with the "amateurs" and their "crappy cell phone cameras". I was more offended by his wording than anything in his story about Mattel, oddly enough. And while I wasn't at Toy Fair, I know that not all the sites that were there were crappy fly-by-night blogs.

    While I think he did get jerked around (at least as it relates to the time switcheroo) I don't know if it had anything to do with Mattel's disdain for collectors.

    • Nope. You're not the only one. I don't know the guy at all, but in his version of what happened he comes across as a bit entitled and dismissive of the other folks who are doing essentially the same thing he does.

      That said, Mattel still seems disorganized, unprofessional, inept and rude. But then, that's easy to believe, since Mattel has a long and growing track record of being disorganized, unprofessional, inept and rude with its fans. I'm sure this is often unintentional. There have been several PR missteps that either happened or were made worse by someone at Mattel trying to communicate to the fans – times when they would have been better off just keeping quiet. So, maybe… kudos to them for at least trying to reach out to the collector community? I don't know. I'm just watching from the sidelines, routinely amused by Mattel's gaffes and feeling a bit embarrassed for them.

    • Sorry to have come off that way. Was not my intent. I will say there is no distinction at any show between those of us spending a lot of time to cover these things and guys that may have tacked on a tumbler to their retailer website. No distinction between Daniel at AFI and some dude taking ultra close up shots with his iPhone..and that is frustrating when you are at Hasbro and have to wade through 200 folks to get your shots done. In that respect, no, I don't think we are doing the same thing, but I don't treat them shitty or act like I deserve better. I just wish companies would thin the herd a bit when packing us in. Actually I have better things to wish for, but you get my meaning.

      Aside from that, would love to hear Daniel's side of my handling at Toy Fair. I feel he shouldn't have anything to say on the topic as he wasn't there, but since he has friends on the inside, maybe he knows something I don't.

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