Who knew men are so sensitive? Well, certainly not Kimberly-Clark (K-C). The company enraged many dads earlier this month with its new “Dad Test” campaign for Huggies diapers. The idea behind the campaign was as follows: “To prove that Huggies diapers and wipes can handle anything, we put them to the toughest test imaginable: Dads, alone with their babies, in one house, for five days.”
Huggies tried to make it funny as you can see from this ad, but apparently it didn’t work out. Dads got angry at the company, promising on Facebook not to buy Huggies never ever again and a petition was uploaded on Change.org against K-C. The company quickly responded, apologized and promised to immediately make changes in the campaign. The whole fiasco was not just a great opportunity to learn about the sensitivity level of modern dads, but also a valuable lesson in stakeholder engagement in the age of social media.
Let’s look first at KC’s intentions. Here’s what K-C spokesman Joey Mooring had to say about it: “The singular goal with this campaign was to demonstrate the performance of our products in real-life situations because we know real life is what matters most to moms and dads. A fact of life is that dads care for their kids just as much as moms do and in some cases are the only caregivers…We intended to break out of stereotypes by showing that dads have an opinion on product performance just as much as moms do.” Now look again at K-C’s ad. It’s clear that the company tried to use humor to meet its goal, but apparently not everyone saw the humor in it. Especially not the dads.
“This is just yet another insulting and stupid advertisement in this genre. Surprised you didn’t show one of these inept, shaved apes dropping a baby because they couldn’t figure out which end to hold them by”, “This is a very offensive message. If this is what they think about dads, I guess it is time to switch to pampers!”, and “This ad is insulting and sexist. This isn’t 1965 any more. And diapers have never been difficult for men to use” were some of the comments K-C got on its Facebook page following the ad. Now, I’m a dad and I also change diapers regularly, and I didn’t find this ad offensive or ridiculing in any way. At the same time I didn’t find the ad that funny either. Others see it differently – humor after all is a relative thing and what one person finds funny, another person might find offensive.
So, does it mean advertising campaigns can only play it safe now or not use humor anymore? Of course not, but a company like K-C should have also considered in advance the chance that not all dads would like the campaign, especially when it is based on a cliché that is no longer true. After all, today 32 percent of dads are the primary caregiver. So, lesson #1: Be careful with clichés. Lesson #2: Be aware of the impact even a small unsatisfied group of customers can have online. Here’s a fact: Most dads probably don’t care or know about K-C’s ad. There’s a good chance that the majority of those who saw the ad even liked it. Yet, dozens of angry dads and moms on K-C’s Facebook page and over a thousand signatures on a Change.org petition were enough to generate a negative buzz, get the media interested in the story and eventually get K-C to admit it made a mistake and change its campaign.
K-C did ignore these two lessons, but was quick to respond, showing it is well aware of other important lessons learned from similar situations in the past. It’s not very surprising by the way – K-C knows how to master social media and it was ranked no. 10 (with FedEx) on the top 10 list of the SMI-Wizness social media sustainability index last year. This ranking indicates that K-C is an example of a company that makes good use of the wisdom of its crowd and knows how to “collaborate with fans to break taboos and challenge status quo.” I guess it didn’t work out this time (maybe because men not knowing how to change diapers has not been the status quo for the last 20-30 years..).
So what lessons K-C did implement well? Once the trouble began, it didn’t underestimate the influence/impact of its social media critics and acted fast. Really fast. Within hours its spokesman issued a statement saying that “we recognize that we need to do a better job communicating the campaign’s overall message… and, because of the responses we have received, are making changes to ensure that the true spirit of the campaign comes through in the strongest way possible.” Not only that, K-C also replaced its initial TV ad with a new one that “more clearly communicates our true intent,” also also got in touch with Chris Routly, who started the petition against the company on Change.org, updating him about all the changes.
This quick response was an implementation of another important lesson (taken also from the SMI-Wizness social media sustainability index): A corporate culture of unresponsiveness can torpedo the reputation of even the most altruistic brands. In other words, sometimes being slow to repair the damage done is worst than making the damage in the first place.
K-C’s spokesman is even moving forward to engage more closely with dads – he said that after the backlash he went to the Dad Summit 2.0, a conference in Austin where brands have an opportunity to have conversation with dads. I’m not sure what he have learned there, but I’m quite positive K-C will never assume anymore or hint that men are from Mars, diapers are from Venus.
Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Department of Business Administration, CUNY and the New School, teaching courses in green business and new product development.