Viral marketing and word-of-mouth buzz can serve as a powerful, positive influence that can launch an otherwise undiscovered product into the stratosphere of public consciousness – but when viral and word-of-mouth turn against a brand, the consequences can be devastating. Recently, Pampers dealt with the latter of these two scenarios, proving once again that a corporation must be completely transparent with their consumers in order to maintain loyalty and brand enthusiasm.
Pampers planned on launching its new Dry Max diaper in the coming months, but before a national campaign could be launched, began slipping the new diaper into the old Cruisers packaging. The new diapers were considered more eco-friendly by using a revamped absorbent gel material instead of the traditional mesh liner and wood-based fibers. The product hailed as the “iPod of baby care” also happened to be 20% thinner than traditional Pampers – but when this new product made its way into selected markets without any warning, the detractors came out fast and furious. Users claimed the diaper felt “stiff, papery and cheaper and causes more leaks and diaper rash.”
An extremely vocal minority began bashing the product on various review websites and forums – not to mention an incredible 5 to 1 ratio of negative posts on Diapers.com. Pampers own website questionably removed commenting capabilities when numerous complaints came in, but quickly added the function back after critics claimed a cover-up was in the works.
Proctor & Gamble execs feel that once the marketing program launches, negative sentiment will turn into more positive feelings. The diapers perform better during testing, and cost a lot less to produce (though they will cost the same amount to purchase).
So what high-level takeaways can Pampers and other brands learn from this mistake? Communication is key – brand transparency remains more important than ever, and sneaking new diapers into old packaging without so much as an explanatory note spells disaster and negative feedback. After the negative groundswell begins, the delayed marketing effort by Pampers may be too little, too late. A more pre-emptive buzz marketing campaign would have atleast alerted the early markets of the switchover. Second, brand loyalty is a real concept, and changing the secret sauce of a product without warning will anger your most vocal advocates. Thirdly, consumers sometimes hate change no matter whether it actually is for the good. An improvement may not be seen as such if it comes at the price of a tried and true product. Lastly, the power of viral, word-of-mouth feedback can make or break a product launch. Brands need to listen to their main advocates before they turn into detractors. Hopefully for Pampers, it wont be too little, too late.