Defensive Strategy

Sizing up the Pampers Crisis

13 May 2010  

Just how big is the Pampers crisis?

P&G recently introduced Pampers Dry Max, replacing Pampers Cruisers and Swaddlers. The Dry Max product features an extra absorbent liner which makes the diapers thinner and improves overall performance. The Dry Max product is also cheaper to manufacturer than the old product, so P&G builds profits without taking a price increase.

The Wall Street Journal wrote about the story today:

The launch hasn’t gone well. While P&G claims that sales are fine, consumers are in a bit of an uproar, with people complaining loudly. Media outlets are starting to pick up the story. Some stock market analysts claim the Pampers story sparked last week’s big moves.

In theory, P&G should be fine. Pampers is a strong brand and the new Pampers is supposedly a better product. According to P&G there is no evidence that the new Pampers causes rashes or other problems.

The problem is that the Dry Max story is taking on a life of its own. People are noticing the product difference and asking tough questions. Consumers are looking for rashes when they use the Dry Max product. Kids get rashes, of course. This means that consumers looking for rashes will see them. And the momentum behind the story could build, whether there is a real problem or not.

P&G has some unpleasant options. The company could simply stick with the new product, repeating again and again that there is not a problem. This might or might not work. The company could bring back the old product. This is probably a very unappealing option; one does not change a paper mill without enormous capital investment. It is hard to see a happy outcome for P&G if consumer concerns build.

There is a lesson in this, and it is the same one Coke learned many years ago. Be very, very careful when changing an iconic brand. It is easy to add new products but changing the core items is always risky.

4 Responses

  1. Joe says:

    I have been a loyal and pleased Pampers customer since 2007. I loved the mesh lining in the Cruisers and the fact I never, ever had any leaks, even if my daughter wore them 12+ hours at night and they were sagging down between her knees. Now I have two in Cruisers and began noticing a severe quality decline several months ago. Tabs ripping off, mesh liner gone, leaking,…

  2. David Silverman says:

    Thanks for writing about this P&G story. I think this is a classic case of people being wary of change. I have a 15 month old daughter who just graduated to cruisers and we started using the new Pampers discussed. With her old Pampers Swaddlers she would get bad rashes every now and again (as most kids do from time to time) and the diapers would always be very large and saggy. We’ve loved the new Cruisers – seemingly fewer rashes and they really do fit much better. I was reluctant to try them because of all the old vs. new comparisons of Swaddlers on Amazon but went for them anyway. I’d like to see some real scientific data about the rash issues. I think that parents are just jumping to conclusions fed by guilt that they let their kid get a bad diaper rash but perhaps some study will shed light on the real situation.

    • Tim Calkins says:

      David–Thanks for the first hand report. My kids are past the diaper stage.

      I think a study would surely help, but if people think there is a problem they probably won’t believe the study. Perception is reality.


      • David Silverman says:

        Very true – perception is reality. In addition to sticking with new product or bringing back the old could another course of action be to make additional improvements to new product to innovate their way out? Seems like the incremental improvement strategy seems to work when consumers don’t like a new version of a well regarded product.

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