By Mike Mulvihill
A Facebook petition had the power to prompt SNL to invite Betty White to host the king of Saturday night programming this past weekend, earning the show its best ratings since John McCain hosted.
And last week social media brought a series of diaper rash and blisters “…resembling chemical burns” to a crescendo of sorts. But both situations are reminders that social media’s power still plays second fiddle to traditional media when it comes to getting the attention of mainstream American consumers and business organizations. Unlike the Mommy bloggers that caused Motrin to pull its short video aimed at young moms with baby-lugging back pain, this situation didn’t sneak up on Proctor & Gamble. P&G has been monitoring social media about an issue with its new Pampers Dry Max diaper since late 2009, according to an Ad Age interview, but only cranked into high gear when traditional broadcast media started chasing the story at the end of last week.
Here’s a glimpse at how things went down. On May 6, before conducting several media interviews on the topic, P&G issued a press release. In the release P&G said, “Pampers has been a subject of growing but completely false rumors fueled by social media that its new Dry Max diaper causes rashes and other skin irritations. These rumors are 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. Some have specifically sought to promote the myth that our product causes ‘chemical burns.’ We have comprehensively and thoroughly investigated these and other claims and have found no evidence whatsoever that the reported conditions were in any way caused by materials in our product. Independent physicians, highly respected in the field, have analyzed our data and have confirmed our conclusions. This week we have shared these findings, and other detailed safety information, with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and we welcome its involvement in reviewing these claims and helping to educate parents on the true causes of diaper rash.”
An ABC interview with P&G’s Bryan McCleary produced the following fairly aggressive sound bite, “Diaper rash is one of the most common symptoms and things that babies experience. The things that are being described, things like blisters, breaks in the skin, deep red rashes, this is part of what is experienced by babies all throughout the year. As hundreds of thousands of moms and babies are switching to the new Dry Max, it’s clear that they’re coincidentally developing diaper rashes and severe diaper rashes at the same time.”
P&G says it has received less than two complaints for every one million diapers sold, which they say is typical for a diaper. P&G’s Allen said that the company has turned over all of its findings to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. CPSC officials say they are investigating a handful of reports from parents who claim their children suffered persistent and severe rashes after wearing the diapers, including blisters similar to those caused by chemical burns.
P&G at least appears to have some basis for its conspiracy claims. The blog B4Tea reports that writer Anne Frankhudler was spreading false information about the situation at World Correspondents, along with a “spammer at the CNM News Network,” that there was a recall of Pampers Cruisers with Dry Max technology. And a post in Cloth Diapering (obviously not a manufactured diaper proponent) claims at least partial credit for bringing this all to light.
Perhaps less conspiratorial are the concerned parents – some 4,500 – who have formed a Facebook group dedicated to “Pampers bring back the OLD CRUISERS/SWADDLERS.” The page features many stories about babies with persistent blistering rashes that have frustrated parents – with dozens of claims that they only found relief after switching diaper brands
A Google Blog Search on Pampers Cruisers Chemical Rash produced nearly 1,800 posts on the subject – and you can be sure that is only headed in one direction.
Stayed tuned – as we say in the PR business, this story has legs. Consumers purporting to be impacted have made good use of social media to raise the profile of their concerns. P&G appears to have done a good job monitoring the situation and responding promptly (if not a tad aggressively) when the CPSC began an investigation which prompted major traditional media to follow the story. But regardless of where the story goes, the point is that traditional media still has a knack to bring a story to a head. While social media sets the stage, it is traditional media that packs a punch when it comes to getting attention and ensuring action/reaction in general society – at least for now.
Baby photo from Aender1977