Social media vs. the real world: why Kellogg’s got burned and Pampers didn’t

Last week, Kelloggs UK tweeted something they’ve been regretting ever since:

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Twitter users were quick to pounce, calling Kellogg’s out for what they saw as a cynical attempt to promote themselves through emotional blackmail:

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Kellogg’s pulled the tweet and apologised twice – once blaming the “wrong use of words” and one more comprehensive apology after the first one was badly received.

But all this left me wondering why Kelloggs’ campaign was so reviled when Pampers have been doing essentially the same thing – to widespread praise – for the best part of a decade:

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The Pampers/Unicef “one pack = one vaccine” campaign has been running for eight years, with messaging explaining that for every pack sold, Procter & Gamble will “provide UNICEF with funding for one life-saving tetanus vaccine to protect a mother and her newborn in the developing world.”

Twitter barely existed when the campaign launched at Christmas in 2006, but surely if this approach was so abhorrent, other media outlets would have risen up in the same way? Hardly. In fact, far from a backlash, the Harvard Business Review comments that “consumer enthusiasm has been so strong that the partners now expect the disease will be eliminated, as measured by World Health Organization standards, by 2015.”

The most I could find in terms of dissenting opinion was one abandoned Facebook page complaining that $0.07 is not a high enough donation considering the pack price. Where are all the angry people saying “Wait, so if we don’t buy your nappies, you’ll let a child die of tetanus? You monsters!”.

So why the difference?

Why were Kellogg’s berated and forced to apologise while P&G are held up as an example of a generous corporation?

My instinct is that it comes down to the medium. A retweet is a purely promotional entity – it doesn’t serve any purpose other than promoting the tweet and the tweeter. Buying a pack of nappies, on the other hand, is something people do anyway – not to promote the brand, but simply to care for their baby. So the Pampers campaign is seen as an attractive extra – you’re already buying these nappies, why not help while you’re at it? While the Kellogg’s campaign is seen as “advertise us and we’ll do something nice”.

The difference is really immaterial, though, because the intention at both companies is the same. Pampers gets more people buying their nappies than the competing brand, and Kellogg’s gets promoted into people’s timelines. There’s a clear business benefit in both cases, so the difference is entirely on the consumer’s side – doing something they’d do anyway versus feeling used.

There’s also an element of precedent. The idea of buying something to help a cause is deeply entrenched in society – the charity cake sale, the face cream with the pink ribbon packaging – whereas using throwaway social media interactions to help a cause is associated with chain emails and manipulative, spammy Facebook posts.

mm1“Thank goodness – we finally have enough likes to pay for my son’s operation”

At their core, both campaigns are exactly the same, and both have merit in my view. Neither organisation had any obligation to do something for vulnerable people, and lord knows they’re doing more than most companies. The difference is purely in the way they’ve gone about it. Perhaps Pampers can learn from Kellogg’s experience and avoid extending their offline campaign into social.

Good thing they haven’t just launched a “1 view = 1 vaccine” campaign on their YouTube videos then, isn’t it?

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Here we go again.

Update: looks like Private Eye agree with me:

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Photo courtesy of the brilliant BetaRish

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2 thoughts on “Social media vs. the real world: why Kellogg’s got burned and Pampers didn’t

  1. Carrie B. says:

    While I do agree with you, I’d also add to it – I would think people look at it as, “If I’m buying Pampers, I’m giving them money, which is then being donated” versus “Kelloggs clearly has the money, since I’m not giving them any by retweeting. So they’re just holding the money ‘hostage’ for free advertising.”

    Sure, the majority of the money isn’t being donated, but it’s all in how people think and justify.

  2. erinorange says:

    Ah that’s awful, there’s such a guilt element – anyone can RT, if you don’t buy the Pampers you’ve got the justification that you don’t have any kiddies. Great post! 🙂

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