Company staunchly defends new pampers as allegations of rashes, leaks find traction on the web.
P&G, which last year posted $79 billion in total revenue, roughly $8.5 billion of which came from Pampers, calls the claims “completely false.”Some mothers who blame the reengineered diapers for causing rashes, even “chemical burns,” have started a Facebook page to detail their claims and press P&G to reverse course. The claims quickly gained traction, leading this month to a lawsuit and inquiries by product-safety regulators in the U.S. and Canada.
“Intensive safety assessments, clinical testing, and consumer testing before, during, and after the launch shows that Pampers Dry Max is safe,” P&G says. It also says rashes are commonplace, affecting more than 2.5 million babies at any given time.
The company says sales haven’t been affected by the issue. But the bad publicity is putting the Cincinnati-based company in the uncomfortable position of having to publicly blame or discredit its own customers.
“Obviously we’re treating this issue with utmost urgency,” says Jodi Allen, vice president of Pampers North America. “We’re doing everything we can to reach out to moms and assure them of the safety of our product.”
Pampers with Dry Max debuted in March, part of P&G’s strategy to boost sales through product innovation. It says the new diaper uses the same type of absorbent gel as the older version, but says the gel is now printed onto the diaper rather than poured into a bulky pulp material, making the diaper 20% thinner.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is in the early stages of looking into whether the complaints have merit, speaking with consumers and reviewing P&G’s product-manufacturing and testing data, a spokeswoman says.
P&G says it is cooperating— but it has also gone on the defensive. Last week, it issued a news release arguing that the claims are being “perpetuated by a small number of parents,” some of whom support competitors’ products or cloth diapers.
Rosana Shah, a stay-at-home mother in Denham Springs, La., says her daughter developed a “very red, very hot” rash after using one of the new diapers. Ms. Shah posted her complaints on the Pampers Web site and called the company.
Unhappy with the response, Ms. Shah started a Facebook crusade. Others have sprung up as well. Her page, called “Pampers Bring Back the Old Cruisers/Swaddlers,” continues to gain support. On Wednesday, it surpassed 7,000 members, almost double a week ago.
“P&G is trying to insinuate that all babies get diaper rashes and that we’re making a mountain out of a molehill,” says Ms. Shah. “That’s when people got mad.”
A number of companies have run into public-relations problems on social-media sites. In March, NestlÃ© SA faced protests over its purchases of palm oil from a supplier that protesters believed harmed the environment. Domino’s Pizza last year faced backlash when two employees posted a joke Web video of themselves blowing their noses on pizzas. Both companies say swift action and communication calmed consumers.
P&G is reaching out to about 50 “mommy bloggers” who sampled the new diapers before they launched. Pampers with Dry Max is “one of the most tested diapers in Pampers history,” P&G told them in an email.
P&G also is pursuing a harder line, monitoring websites and compiling an internal “Pampers Dishonesty Report,” reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, that scrutinizes the Facebook campaign. In the report, P&G claims the Facebook campaigners use “blatant coaching,” advising moms to use the term “chemical burn” rather than “diaper rash” if contacted by the media.
Ms. Shah denies P&G’s accusations. “We weren’t coaching; we were trying to set the record straight,” she says.
P&G recently added more customer-service representatives to allow for longer calls with consumers.