On Thursday, Hasbro announced changes to the nearly 70-year-old Potato Head brand. The iconic toy consists of a plastic body and small holes where various accessories could be plugged to create limitless forms: A Mr. Potato Head with glasses, smiles, and varieties of footwear and hair among them. The brand, popularized in the Toy Story movie franchise, also announced a brand new toy pack that would allow children to mix and match their versions of modern families, which might consist of two moms or two dads.
This isn’t a story about gender neutral toys; you’ve already seen the headlines. This isn’t about a story about whether a brand has the right to capitalize on a social cause — the debate is still raging on Twitter. This is a story about ethical journalism, a company’s brand integrity, and what happens when both pull a sleight of hand to edit or eliminate their narratives to hide communications blunders.
That’s because a review of cached pages reveals that Hasbro’s marketing team and Associated Press took a page from the toy’s famous mix and match novelty with their liberal edits about the new product line. In doing so, they edited their stories faster than you can change Mr. Potato Head from a firefighter to a police captain — with zero transparency — and effectively kept changing the story.
Within hours, Hasbro walked back their strong support of diversity among modern families, raising the specter of using stunt marketing along with disingenuous virtue signaling to make a product sale.
On February 25, Associated Press led the news bearing the title “Mr. Potato Head goes gender neutral.” The story — if you can call it that, as it was only six sentences — claimed the toy was getting a “gender neutral new name, Potato Head” by dropping the mister and would appear on boxes later in the year.