Pamper Yourself… By Not Insulting Your Target Audience*

For those of you nervous about taking the plunge into social media, here’s a real-time social media product firestorm in action to make your toes curl. Listen and learn.

Check out the Pampers Facebook “like” page and its user-created opposite, the Pampers brings back old cruisers/swaddlers page (which now shows up first in my search for “Pampers”).

A bit of background: Pampers rolled out a new diaper in select markets last year – without changing the packaging or informing customers. It incorporates a new technology – a super absorbent gel – that’s made the diapers less fluffy and more absorbent. The new technology changed the look and feel of the diaper, causing some confusion among parents. Over time, a small group of parents using the new diaper began noticing a type of blister-like rash on their children which they associated with the product change, and began posting their concerns to social media sites.

When the product went national and the packaging was officially changed to reflect the new technology, more complaints came in.  P&G had been monitoring the issue since late last year, but did not issue any official statements beyond, “Call our customer service line and here’s some coupons” until it went mainstream.

When the issue hit the mainstream media, their statement basically boiled down to: “There’s no problem with the diapers. Folks on social media sites are being hysterical. Here’s some coupons!” (here is the full statement). P&G also gave AdAge a look into their communications strategy concerning the issue.

P&G gets points for the fast response, and for it’s social media presence, which doesn’t involve deleting posts unless they’re abusive or link to other sites, so customers get to vent and there is some “official” response to some of the more constructive comments. I sympathize with the poor customer service/marketing intern who has to moderate the Pampers FB page and continually direct folks to the complaint line, but it’s not the FB responses that are the problem – it’s the big statement from the company that basically equates ALL of the issues to a handful of hysterical social media mavens with nothing better to do with their time.

Whoa, boy.

Kinda hard to mop up your image as a concerned company on your social media sites when the big bad corporate hulk just told your customers they’re crazy. Call me crazy, but when your target expresses a concern about your product (even if that concern DID originate on anti-Pampers, pro-cloth diapers sites) – particularly a target comprised primarily of women – your response should not be along the lines of, “You’re just hysterical.”

In fact, P&G has been getting complaints about the product, as noted, for some time, which makes me even less impressed with their reaction when it eventually went mainstream media.  Like any other product, the new diaper has been through extensive testing – 20,000 babies and 300,000 diaper changes, according to their statement. Like any product, however, different folks likely react differently to it, especially young children. This is to be expected. I have a friend who literally must be rushed to the hospital if somebody sprays Axe cologne anywhere near him (I’m serious). He’s got an allergy to the chemicals it uses. Does that mean Axe cologne needs to be recalled? Probably not. But does it invalidate my friend’s life-threatening allergy?

Absolutely not.

When someone tells you your product doesn’t work and/or actively harms somebody, yes, send them to the customer service line. But when you start logging hundreds of complaints that are getting aired on your social media sites, then you need to publicly acknowledge them. Show them that you actually care about the harm that may or may not be caused by your product.

If they had six-eight months to prepare, why wasn’t their statement more along the lines of:

  1. “We share our customers’ concerns about any new product, [always sympathize with audience. Let us know you care.] which is why we tested this product on 20,000 babies and 300,000 changes, however,  in order to reassure our community of the safety of our products, we are currently working with parents and their pediatricians to investigate each individual issue to determine the cause of these concerns. In many cases, we have found that the issue is not the Dry Max product, but X. [Again, research would tell you what the real issue was if the product is safe, but ignore your target and you’ll never have the data as to what was going on. Let us know you’re DOING something in response to complaints, and be transparent. Best you can do here – if it turns out a child has an allergy, get that parent and pediatrician to post a story to your FB wall. If it turns out the child is allergic to all diapers, or it was caused by an external issue or is just regular diaper rash, have them share it. But in order to get these stories of resolution, you must actively engage with parents to determine cause. Your customer should be debunking any issues, if they’re worth debunking, not you.] We understand that every child reacts differently, so if your child experiences discomfort while using products which include the Dry Max liner, we encourage you to speak with your pediatrician or try a different type of Pampers [This lets folks know there’s an alternative and if it turns out .01% of users are having an allergic reaction, you’re saving kids some headache, too. This is Do the Right Thing time]. In the meantime, we have clearly marked all products which include the new Dry Max liner. [Transparency. “We have nothing to hide. Here’s what’s going on.” Much of the initial anger was over switching a product in the test markets and not communicating that] We are dedicated to ensuring the safety of your child, [again, big corporate entity, show folks you care] and appreciate your patience as we complete our inquiry into each individual issue. [again, show ACTION. We are DOING something in response. We have HEARD you.] We thank the Pampers community for bringing these concerns to our attention, [acknowledge your community and make sure they know you appreciate them] and we look forward to working with you today and every day to resolve any and all concerns you may have with the new Dry Max liner or any other Pampers product. [again, we are DOING things]

And if  I was really in markety-mode, I’d have included some of the advantages of the Dry Max product there in the statement, too.

If you look at a lot of the comments on that FB page, you’ll note that most of the commenters are loyal Pampers customers who are far more outraged about being brushed off by the company’s statement and feeling that their concerns are ignored than they are about their child’s rash. We use social media because we want to be heard. If we feel we aren’t being heard, we’re going to keep screaming at you.

Regardless of whether or not this is a social media kerfluffle of the War of the Worlds variety, you have a responsibility to treat your customers with courtesy and respect. It’s not enough just to LISTEN to your customers. You need to HEAR them. It’s great to have a listening post, but just listening hard isn’t worth much when you don’t know how to put together the right response.

How would you respond if this was your brand?

*As ever, all opinions (and errors!) made here are mine, and do not necessarily reflect the position or opinions of P/O/N.

Penny Ohlmann Neimann

The Ohlmann Group has a rich history that began in Dayton, Ohio in 1949, where the agency was founded as Penny and Penny by Bob Penny and his wife Jean. In 1964, Walter Ohlmann joined the firm. Ralph Neiman came on in 1969 and the firm became Penny/Ohlmann/Neiman. In 2011, P/O/N was renamed The Ohlmann Group to better reflect the agency's ongoing evolution and collaborative nature.

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