Reviewing Samples Addendum > Thoughts from a Toy Company Rep

You’ll recall my Reviewing Samples series from a few months back, where I interviewed various toy reviewers about the practice of reviewing samples sent by toy companies (apologies for that terrible repetitive sentence). In the process of that series, I contacted a few toy company press reps to see if they were interested in answering some questions from the other side of things. One recently got back to me with the following answers.

For obvious professional reasons, the subject of the interview wishes to remain anonymous. Suffice to say, this person works for a major toy company and has been responsible for distributing free samples to reviewers in the past. –PG

1.) When your company provides samples to a toy reviewer, what are your expectations regarding the review (i.e., positive, objective, fair, etc.)?

I certainly want the review to be fair, but you need to focus on  the positive as well as the negative — you can’t just run down every single thing you think is wrong with it without ever mentioning a a good point. (And no, wrapping up a list of negatives with “It’s still a good purchase” does not make everything okay — it makes me wonder what in the hell you liked about it, because you certainly never mentioned it.) If you can’t say anything nice about the product at all, let me know, and we’ll kill the review. You can complain as much as you like about a toy you buy, but to utterly eviscerate a toy I sent you for free is not cool. Just say “I can’t review this. It sucks.” Done.

2.) Do you provide samples only to those reviewers who you think will provide a good review?

I provide samples to anyone who asks, as long as they’ve actually done some reviews before and I can get the product they want. If they have no reviews up on their site, I usually tell them to get back to me when they can send me some representative links. Maybe if I knew a reviewer constantly trashed our stuff, I wouldn’t send him something, but that hasn’t happened yet.

3.) Do you pick and choose which items you offer as review samples, or do you tend to offer review samples of everything you produce? If the former, are you more likely to offer review samples of less popular brands?

I only send product when requested — I will not send someone everything we make and wait to see what they review. And I don’t reserve review product in advance, I request them as requests come in. So if a popular toy sells out, I can’t get you review samples anyway. Retailer exclusives are often hard to get a hold of, as well — we don’t always keep many of those. And while I’d like to support those releases, I also don’t want to be responsible for a bad review of one of them to go out, so it’s probably best that we don’t have the product. So yeah, the product I get is usually not the most popular stuff we make.

4.) Do you feel that your company, or toy companies in general, are under some pressure to provide review samples as the makers of movies,videogames, music albums etc. often do, or is it less about marketing and more about, say, building good relationships with the collecting community?

More about building good relationships; if they need content, I give it to them, be it pictures or text or product to shoot/examine. It seems like most toy reviewers still buy the toys they review, be it for bias purposes or because they want to get a sense of the perceived value vs. actual price paid. But I am happy to provide our products to sites that cover us regularly. If I send product to another site, it’s because I know they’d cover us more if we sent them something.

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    • The responses were coherent, honest and there was no sense of condescension at all so I think we can rule out ToyGuru.

  • here's where i take some issue:

    "You can complain as much as you like about a toy you buy, but to utterly eviscerate a toy I sent you for free is not cool."

    if someone sent out the sample, clearly someone thought the piece was up to being reviewed. gordon ramsay has made a friggin career out of eviscerating things he thought weren't up to snuff, and people seem to think that's cool. and the use of the word "cool"… like "cool" would be better to say nothing, or email this dude and say "your toy blows?" but that's not honest, or at least, a lie of omission. if you got the sample to review, review it fairly, and if it sucks, that means eviscerate it. the determination is best left to the reviewer(s) not those seeking the review. again, if the producer lacks confidence in a product, maybe don't lead w/ that?

    i don't get why, to use an example, if shocker sent someone a figure sample, and that fig falls apart like it was made by frostbitten epileptics out of cotton balls and tinsel, poe, as a reviewer, has a social responsiblity to his readers to say "hey, this toy falls apart like it was made by frostbitten epileptics out of cottom balls and tinsel." we make buying decisions based on his reviews, so a dishonest review, or not reviewing a toy he knows to be defective, is not "cool." not as "not cool" as lying directly and giving the fig a great review it didn't deserve, but still very much on the "not cool" scale. since the onus lies on the reviewer to strike that balance, i really think prudence lies, for the producer, in not sending out samples of product that sucks, and once it's sent, trust in your product and let it stand or fail on it's own merits. no need to guilt trip or overcomplicate the reviewer, let them do the review as they see fit. i hate micromanaging.

    • And this is why I wouldn't accept a sample from Shocker. When I request/accept review samples, I try to do so only for items I believe I will be able to review positively. If I have reason to suspect I won't like the figures, I'd rather not have to write the review based on a free sample. (E.g., yesterday's Evil Dead 2 review, though I did buy a second set of the figures anyway).

      Your point is valid, though. Killing the review is probably not something I'd be comfortable with; at the very least, I might kill the review of the product sample at the company's request, but I might then buy the product on my own so I could review it fairly.

      I did like the suggestion on Dave and Devall's podcast that you give the company a heads-up if you're going to be reviewing it negatively. It allows you to make some constructive criticisms directly to them, and perhaps get an explanation as to why something was done that way, something you can mention in the review.

      But as for the "evisceration" question – I think there's a valid point on the rep's part here. It's one thing to say, "this figure, unfortunately, fell apart when I opened it." It's another to say, "This figure is a piece of crap that fell apart the instant I opened it and its makers should be dragged out into the street and shot." I don't tend to write like that anyway, but I think it's fair for a toy company rep to be annoyed if something they sent to someone for free is brutally mocked.

      That said, good reviewers, I think, tend not to use that sort of language whether they bought the item themselves or not.

      • to that i would say, i know it's the cultural norm now, but hyperbole isn't helpful to anyone. i 100% agree that going too far is going too far, so don't be that guy (besides, that's treading on my schtick).

        but a warranted level of outrage at a defective product should be no problem.

        and for record, i just pulled shocker's name out of my ass, i don't know that anything like that ever happened, nor am i insinuating that it did. they were an example only. 🙂 neither poe nor his affiliates are in any way responsible for the views and opinions of dayraven.

    • I see no problem with that statement.

      I think a good review will let the reader make their mind up for themselves.

      If you can provide a fair & balanced review pointing out the good as well as the bad then there really should be no issue.

      If you have an axe to grind or have some ulterior motives going on in there, thats not cool.

  • I agree with Dayraven, if a company is so proud of their product and send out free samples they should be prepared for it to get a honest review. Also reviewers should give all products a fair review wether they are free or bought witht their own money. It's no fair on the reader / watchers for a reviewer to praise poorly made items with faults just to keep getting more free products.

  • I agree with him.

    He's not squashing negative reviews – he's just saying that if you are going to totally eviscerate the toy (see Poe's comment on phrasing – "it fell apart' vs "Everyone at Mattel sucks"), then you can do it with one you bought and paid for. He didn't SAY that they would only accept positive reviews, after all, just tat stuff too far on the other end can be a problem.