Gini Dietrich

The OXO/Quirky Debate: What OXO Did Really Well

By: Gini Dietrich | February 13, 2013 | 

We talk a lot about the things organizations do wrong and what they could have done differently to avoid backlash or a PR crisis.

It’s all in the spirit of learning from other’s mistakes (although, admittedly, I do love a good train wreck as much as anyone else).

What we don’t talk about a lot are the organizations that are handling things well.

Perhaps that’s because no one talks about them or because, as Mike Mullet discussed a couple of weeks ago, you’ll never hear about a well-managed issue.

I likely never would have heard about the very public debate between OXO and Quirky had Rieva Lesonsky not sent along a letter, so you can thank her.

OXO Open Letter

They wrote an open letter to their customers that begins like this:

Earlier this week a consumer products company located two blocks from OXO started a very public campaign accusing us of stealing a product idea. After thoughtful consideration, we decided we need to clarify the situation. It is not our practice to defend ourselves publicly. In fact, this is the first time in the history of our company we have ever taken a public stand like this. But sometimes, you just need to set the record straight.

Below is our full response.

They go on to tell the story of how, on January 21, Quirky accused OXO and their design partner, Smart Design, of stealing a feature from a product called the Broom Groomer, which was submitted to their community in 2009 by an independent inventor and launched in 2010. Their product includes “rubber teeth on the back of the dustpan [that] … quickly and easily comb out dust bunnies.”

The story continues with where rubber teeth on dustpans come from, which dates clear back to 1919 when Addison F. Kelley applied for – and received – a patent for the very thing. His patent expired in 1936 and, to this very day, when a dustpan has a “teeth” feature, it is relying on that patent.

Then they explain to Quirky how the inventor community works, they show some photos of product features the company seems to have stolen from OXO, and then they talk to the people who submit ideas through the Quirky crowdsourcing platform.

You can read the full letter here. It’s long, but it’s worth the read.

What OXO Did Well

This is a great example of communications done well for six reasons.

  1. Not defensive. It’s human nature to get defensive in situations like this (cough, Applebee’s, cough). Perhaps this wasn’t the first draft, but what eventually came out was laid out very well and not defensive in the least. In fact, it’s so calm and level-headed, you can almost hear someone telling you this story in a very collected way.
  2. Well-researched. I really love how they stick it to Quirky with the story of the “rubber teeth” inventor, the images and captions of features Quirky uses in their products that are similar to OXO, and the example of the Quirky Pluck Egg Yolk Separator that clearly came from an Asian product.
  3. Personal and emotional. While they did not get defensive, they still were able to hit your emotions by describing how the Quirky offices are only two blocks away from them, they have the same number of employees, some of the employees know one another, their leaders run in the same circles and have spoken before. They appeal to your emotions by asking, “Isn’t it a little strange Quirky didn’t think to pick up the phone and call first? Wouldn’t that have been the right thing to do?”
  4. Educational. By reading this, I got a great lesson in both inventor Kelley, how patents and inventions work in the real world, and what you should consider if you submit an idea to a company they end up using.
  5. Fact-based. The letter is long, but they were very careful to tell a story based on facts. They cited 13 sources so as not to leave the argument up to chance.
  6. Timely. It took OXO four days after the first Quirky billboard went up to issue this letter. While that may seem like an eternity in today’s 24/7, fast-paced, digital world, because it was so well researched, it works.

When Quirky responded, it was none of these six things, it was written (and posted) quickly, and it comes across as extremely defensive – “We do not plan on further engaging in a tit for tat open letter writing campaign.” (I guess that’s their last word.)

Whether or not this has legs in court is another thing, but in the court of public opinion? OXO wins.

What do you think?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • HowieG

    This is great stuff Gini. I woke to see the crazy friend of Poppy Powers trying to harrass me on twitter. One thing she took issue with is she thinks a 21 year old can handle crisis management and the other is that she can claim to have lived more life than me.
    And this and yesterday proves why seasoned business people have to lead communications whether R, Marketing, Social, Sales etc. I just can’t see a kid having the experiences necessary with all the historical train wrecks to use to be competent when it comes to these things.
    In fact based on her tweets my guess is she would of instead thrown eggs at the competitors windows and then flipped them the bird….only to be caught by a passerby and posted on TMZ. lol

    • @HowieG I think it’s hard for a 21 year old to have lived more life than anyone older. That just goes against the whole more years thing. And, I’m sorry, but until you DO crisis management over and over and over again, you can’t handle it. You have to have a clear head and, at 21, I can think of hardly anyone mature enough to handle it. I wasn’t mature enough to be left to my own devices until my early 30s.

      • HowieG

        @ginidietrich how do you have more @livefyre  points than me?

        • HowieG

          @ginidietrich  @livefyre nevermind @jennalanger just reminded me i cashed mine in for that Hawaii Vacation last month. My bad.

        • @HowieG  I’ve always had more points than you. Jeez.

      • @ginidietrich  @HowieG Well, I’m 42 …but, I just hang around these parts soaking up all of ya’ll’s smarts! I have zero experience in these arenas, but I love hanging around here learning all about it!

        • belllindsay

          @LisaMarieMary  @ginidietrich  @HowieG And Lisa that’s the BEST thing about this new world we’re in of social and blogging. I love that you are hear soaking it in!! 😀

        • belllindsay

          @LisaMarieMary  @ginidietrich  @HowieG Oh wow – of course I meant “here” – g’ah!

        • @LisaMarieMary  Let’s be real. There are two reasons you hang out here: 1) To catch my typos and 2) To make fun of —->@HowieG

  • What a great story. I love a well executed rebuttal.
    Speaking of which, did you (Gini) ever get paid for your speaking engagement overseas? I still have those domains, if you need me to unleash some snark.

    • @ExtremelyAvg I’m getting paid slowly. Supposedly they’re going to make the final payment on Feb. 20. We’ll see.

  • HowieG

    BTW @ginidietrich that soft foam rubber over sized hand with the number one sign and the bears logo? I invented that with @extremelyavg you owe us royalties.

    • @HowieG  @extremelyavg I’ll talk to the McCaskey family for you.

    • @HowieG  @ginidietrich I wanted to go with three fingers, for “Were number three,” as I thought it sounded less braggadocios, but HowieG was insistent that “Were Number One” would be a more popular.

  • Love the tone. The communications actually speak volumes about the leadership at both companies. If I had to choose, this makes me want to work for OXO a lot more than Quirky.

    • @jeanniecw Right?! I thought the Quirky response was very childish.

  • JodiEchakowitz

    Finally! A good response to a potentially damaging situation. We need more positive case studies like this one. 
    It’s a good reminder for all of us that if you have an issue with another person or company, take the time to talk to them about it. There might be an underlying reason why they did something that you didn’t agree with. We’re all so very quick to react without taking that basic first step.

    • @JodiEchakowitz I love how they say, wait a second…we KNOW one another. Why wouldn’t they call? That’d be like me having issue with you and, instead of calling you, I buy a billboard. It’s not good business.

  • Very well done. It’s never good to get pissy, and when someone does, you can always shut them down with facts and a well-reasoned rebuttal.

    • @KenMueller Which is exactly what they did. I read the OXO letter three times before I blogged about it. Not everyone agrees with me (read the Gizmodo article about it), but I think it was well done.

      • @ginidietrich wait. someone doesn’t agree with you? Don’t they know who you are???

        • @KenMueller Clearly not. They’ll get a letter from my attorney.

        • @ginidietrich Just make sure it is well-reasoned and fact based. Don’t get all pissy on them.

    • @KenMueller Well reasoned is definitely the smart play, but is it as fun as casting aspersions about the offending parties personal hygiene.

  • ElissaFreeman

    Cool heads always prevail. It’s okay to write your bitchy first draft – get it out of you…then pretend you’re a diplomat negotiating world peace…

    • @ElissaFreeman Mr. D wrote a scathing email the other day and then he read it to me. When he finished, I said, “Do you feel better?” He said he did. I said, “As your communications counsel, I suggest you delete that.” Just writing it made him feel better and then the email he actually sent was, as you say, as if he were  negotiating world peace.

      • HowieG

        @ginidietrich  @ElissaFreeman geez all because he didn’t get the toy he expected in his happy meal? Mr. D can get insurance against that haening through bdorman264

        • @HowieG  bdorman264 Is that true, Bill?! If so, sign us up!

        • @ginidietrich  @HowieG That is true; we can get insurance for anything……..:).
          Whenever I get fired or don’t get a deal I expected to and want to send off a ‘my side of the story’ e-mail, my assistant makes sure I let her see it first and sometimes there is a mandatory 24-hr cooling off period….:). I try not to burn any bridges, but I’ve torched one or two before…….

      • ElissaFreeman

        @ginidietrich Yeah, It’s like writing the “i hate you, you should have never broken up with me” letter to a boyfriend…whereas the only one who really cares is you. Not that I’ve ever done than mind you….lol

        • belllindsay

          @ElissaFreeman  @ginidietrich I call the PFO letters. Please Eff Off. I’m *extremely* good at writing them. So good, that the person who receives it doesn’t even realize it’s a PFO letter. 😉

    • @ElissaFreeman I love the bitchy first draft. It is one of my favorite things to write! Sometimes I like to have a slightly less bitchy second draft as a dessert, but if I’m wise, (and often I’m not), I scrub all the ugliness out for the final version.

  • What a lovely story!  It’s wonderful to see a company do something new (defending its brand) and do it so well and elegantly.  Thank for sharing a story of a brand doing right.  You’re so right, we do need to make sure the good stories get told along with the deliciously bad!  
    Also their response was downright interesting.

    • @HeatherTweedy Wasn’t it? Did you read the comments? They’re getting beat up.

  • PattiRoseKnight

    I have reflected on Mike Mullet’s post and he is so right.  If things are well run we don’t hear about it. I remember one of my kids liked to be the class clown and was disruptive in grammar school and I remember the teacher meeting with us and saying he did this and that, etc. with my son in the room shrinking and after she finished I said “now that we’ve heard all if his faults are there any good things he does” and the teacher was stunned but my son’s face changed from fear to hope.  My point is let’s learn from the good too be it person or company.  Not everything is bad.  My two cents!  Thanks again Mark for a great post!

    • @PattiRoseKnight I wish I could find more good case studies to discuss here!

  • StaceyHood

    I love OXO products and evidently they have some very patient, yet savvy people. It’s unfortunate that it escalated to the point it did and it really seems as if it’s sour grapes. I like the insert on the page where the letter resides about offering trademark primer for inventors. Great stuff, Ginster

    • @StaceyHood It all reeks of sour grapes. I mean, who takes out a billboard like that before exhausting every, other private avenue? The Quirky CEO sounds like a petulant child.

  • Hey Gini, did you see this response and link on the Quirky blog?”A commenter here –    shtml#c98 brought out an interesting moment not in favor of Quirky. “Check out the conversations from 2 years ago between the “inventor” and Quirky members/staff: Bill Ward: “Hey everyone, This morning Matthew pointed out that he saw a product similar to my ‘Broom Groomer’ idea (link) Thought it only fair to advise the community so you don’t waste a vote on an idea that has an IP issue. Bummer!” Brian Shy: “Bill: There is not really an IP issue here because the idea was originally patented in 1917 (sic), see here: (link) Since patents are only good for around 20 years ANYONE (emphasis mine) can use this idea now, including us, we just can’t patent it ourselves.” Very classy, Quirky.”

    • @DebraCaplick I read all of the comments on their blog and most were not flattering. The way their CEO responded, as it compares to what OXO wrote, is immature.

  • This OXO letter is proof that your response can frame the initial message and context. Maybe this brings a new meaning to the expression <em>all PR is good PR</em>. Really interesting read, @ginidietrich . *hat tip* to all the hands that touched this piece.

    • @TopherJRyan I thought it was really well done and very mature in how they handled it. It just made Quirky look immature.

  • Love this!  There’s a lot to say about why but I especially appreciate that OXO brought focus back to what really matters in the design industry,  the consumer. Brilliant, conceding that the consumer wins when other people co-opt their original innovation of no-slip grips, and ending with “We believe the spirit of fair competition challenges others to find a better solution and in the end, the consumer wins.”
    Also  — reminds me of the type of response Bodyform was riffing on in their funny video! And it was smart for OXO to play it straight here of course. Speaks volumes about the cultures of the two companies, unfortunately, and quirky seems petty and silly now. What’s most important to OXO in the end?  WE are as consumers, and they just communicated that to us.

    • @dwaynealicie The consumer AND the inventor community. I loved that. And it was a really compelling piece to read. I love the Bodyform one – I use it in Spin Sucks, but you’ll have to wait until November to see in what capacity.

      • @ginidietrich    Definitely excited for The Book!

  • ginidietrich

    @peterfromottawa Thanks Peter!

  • ginidietrich

    @neicolec Hiiiii!

    • neicolec

      @ginidietrich Hey, you!! How are you doing? How’s the book coming? And WHEN are you coming to Seattle?

      • ginidietrich

        @neicolec I have no plans to get out there, which totally sucks. The trip keeps falling through. I guess you don’t like us Chicagoans.

        • neicolec

          @ginidietrich Actually, I thought I might have a chance to make it out to Chicago. But now it’s not looking likely: I’ll keep trying though.

        • ginidietrich

          @neicolec Booooooo!

  • The best way to learn a lesson is from someone else’s outrageous mistakes. Thanks Quirky!

    • @barrettrossie Fun one to watch unfold, isn’t it??

  • Marguerite2

    “Crisis communications handled really, really well” thanks @ginidietrich @oxo Fascinating read, great response @oxo

    • OXO

      @Marguerite2 Thanks so much Marguerite! We really appreciate the support!

  • gagasgarden

    @ginidietrich @spinsucks I think you really put some “teeth” in the debate.

    • ginidietrich

      @gagasgarden Ba da dum!!

      • gagasgarden

        @ginidietrich Headlines: “Dust Bunnies Meet Saw Tooth Dust Pan In A Dust Up, Lines Are Drawn in Sand,” no bunny wins.

        • ginidietrich

          @gagasgarden LOL!!!

        • gagasgarden

          @ginidietrich There’s a lot of fun headlines in that sweet NR. Bunny Sweeps Up Trouble When He Puts Teeth In It | That’s All Folks 😉

  • OXO

    @chillygal Thanks so much Jeri! We really appreciate the support and praise. 🙂

    • chillygal

      @OXO Truly outstanding response! One that can be used for years in PR training.

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