P&G and Moms Take it to the Max

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Procter & Gamble is in some serious PR hot water…with moms, who want Pampers Dry Max diapers, its $9 billion a year brand, recalled and declared unsafe.

This rising public battle can’t be stopped, or even spun, as it’s being waged online by mommy bloggers, a growing brand unto itself of passionate, intelligent women who are outspoken about raising (and defending) their most precious asset – their kids.

Following a cyber-campaign about the new Dry Max technology in Pampers’ diapers that roiled through the blogosphere, Twitter and three Facebook pages, this week saw two (not one but two) class-action lawsuits filed in Ohio against P&G.

The plaintiff parents claim that P&G “knew or should have known that Pampers with Dry Max had the capacity to and, in many cases, did actually harm infants and toddlers by causing severe rashes, blisters, chemical burns, infections, and/or other ailments.”

Rashes and Blisters, oh my! Not two words a mother likes. P&G, meanwhile, has been fighting back with its own campaign, including video (watch after the jump) of researchers and doctors addressing the chemical burn claims. [more]

On May 6, following an investigation by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission that began on May 3rd, P&G also eleased a pretty blunt statement denying the claims:

“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.”

But let’s toddle, toggle, back a bit, to where it all began, online…yes, on Facebook, when Sara Ann Fobear, a 21-year-old mother of an eight-month-old girl, started a Facebook page, “RECALL PAMPERS DRY MAX DIAPERS!”

“U think when you buy the best diapers…Pampers…that your baby is safe and you only want what is best for them…then find out it’s the diapers that have been causing your baby so much agony,” wrote Fobear.

In an interview with Bloomberg, P&G spokesman Bryan McCleary said the company “has found no evidence that the diapers cause rashes or burns and that P&G has received one rash complaint for every 5 million Dry Max diapers sold — about 400 complaints so far.”

And then it heated up in the echo chamber that is social media these days, where heated words and accusations were bandied around and assertions that perhaps parents should change their children’s diapers more frequently.

Turns out the key difference in Dry Max diapers is a revamped, more porous “absorbent gel material” which P&G claims absorbs more fluid faster.

When first added to Pampers’ Cruisers and Swaddlers lines, the technology was lauded (notes Ad Age) for tree-hugging benefits including less use of wood-based fiber, lower packaging costs, fewer trucks to transport the lighter, thinner diapers and less energy process wood pulp.

P&G may actually have been working towards a more environmentally sound product for its $9 billion brand, but all that pales when the product allegedly harms the bottoms of its two largest customers – babies and their moms.

This story is one to watch for multiple reasons: can P&G recover the brand loss and mollify alienated moms; will Dry Max adjust its formula (if indeed, it’s found that the chemicals can induce rashes above and beyond normal diaper rash) and will it be enough to regain consumer trust; and perhaps most significant, is this a glimpse of the true power of a democratized web where digital citizenry can quickly and directly affect the fortunes of a company’s most prized brand? And how will the US crusade affect Pampers’ emerging markets, such as China?

P&G, meanwhile, has been responding with its own viral video campaign and video clips (below) in attempt to move from “rash” to “rational,” and has been watching its own bottom …. line, as shares fell 27 cents to $62.75 yesterday on the New York Stock Exchange.

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