Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Proctor & Gamble's Diaper Blowout

We have to wonder who is advising P&G on its Pampers Dry Max public relations debacle. P&G revamped its wildly popular Pampers Swaddlers and Cruisers diapers, officially introducing its Dry Max product back in March. (This makeover leaves us scratching our heads anyway. It's akin to the periodic "improvements" we see in cat food. "New flavor, more meat, etc." Whose cats are complaining?)

In any case, soon after the switch, parents started complaining about "chemical burns," "red welts," and "oozing rashes." See here for a good summary of the situation. Pampers apparently responded to parents' complaints by assuring them that the diapers hadn't changed in any material way (then why the big relaunch?) and that their children's diaper rashes were related, not to the new diapers but, perhaps, to their diapering skills. Uh-oh.

If you are trying to really, really anger a mother, criticize---however gently---her care for her young child. Given that it's 2010, readers can probably guess what happened next. The Facebook group Pampers bring back the OLD CRUISERS/SWADDLERS sprang up. This morning it had just shy of 7,000 members.

Then, it got ugly. The concerned parents went on the offensive, e-mailing P&G, contacting local media outlets, contacting the Consumer Protection Safety Commission, and posting, posting, posting---all of which resulted in the mainstream media picking up the story and running with it. And P&G geared up to respond to the media coverage.

Last week, P&G released statements calling the reports of problems "completely false," the CPSC opened an investigation of the issue, Health Canada, the Canadian equivalent, announced that it had done the same, and--no surprise here---the plaintiffs' class action bar got busy.

Now, for P&G to maintain that its own extensive testing shows no evidence of a link between the rashes and the new diapers is one thing. But, to issue a statement that the concerns are "rumors . . . being perpetuated by a small number of parents, some of whom are unhappy that we replaced our older Cruisers and Swaddlers products while others support competitive products and the use of cloth diapers" seems just a wee bit over the top.

Anyone who has ever cared for a small infant, let alone one who is screaming bloody murder at every diaper change, would almost certainly devote his or her precious free time to something like, oh, sleeping or showering, and not trying to topple an iconic product for kicks.

We'll be interested to see how this all shakes out, particularly because P&G is picking up more bad press for this than Johnson & Johnson did for its recall of Infant and Children's Tylenol and Motrin earlier this month. The bad press, by the way, includes the somewhat dubious claim that the brouhaha caused last week's Wall Street chaos. Perhaps the lesson here is not to cross a fiercely protective, sleep-deprived population with access to the Internet.

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