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7 easy ways to keep mothers from becoming angry ex-customers

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It's time to update the old adage: Hell hath no fury like a mother with a Facebook page. "[W]hen it comes to brand affinity," says a July 30 MediaPost report, "the voice of the mom consumer shows love with silence and dollars, and dislike with the volume turned up to 11."

Since mothers make the vast majority of their family's recurring and one-time purchase decisions, brands invest millions of dollars and tons of effort to win their loyalty. And then blow this massive investment with one quick, boneheaded error.

Even the world's largest advertiser, Procter & Gamble, isn't immune to this folly.

In 2010, a Baton Rouge, LA, mother named Rosana Shah noticed a change in the Pampers Dry Max diapers she'd been using on her daughter. "The back of the diaper was just thin, papery diaper cover, no absorption material whatsoever,” she wrote in an online interview, adding that they gave her baby daughter diaper rash, and "[e]very time I tried to change her diaper she would cringe and cry."

When Shah complained to P&G, the company denied anything had changed. But lots had. Responding to consumer complaints that Pampers were too bulky, the manufacturer had added an absorbent gel that let them slim down the disposable diapers while cutting materials and manufacturing costs by 20%." And they'd been phasing in the new Pampers, unannounced, since 2008.

So Mrs. Shah took to the Internet, creating a Facebook group that grew to some 11,000 angry moms. This, in turn, triggered a Consumer Product Safety Commission review, a lawsuit that P&G paid to settle, and complaints that still show up on its website four years later (and which P&G is still dealing with).

Here are six ways to keep your brand from following in Pampers' footsteps:

  1. Don't sneak in product changes. Mothers, and even more so their children, are creatures of habit. Unannounced changes in a product they;ve been using arouse suspicions. "[W]hen a product changes its form, size, or contents, even subtly, moms’ eyebrows raise," warns MediaPost. "Moms are a sophisticated audience, and they know brands make changes to keep costs down. The damage comes when they feel the brand attempted to sneak a change by them unnoticed. A transparent, proactive approach is always best when introducing any changes to a brand." So if you're improving your product, tell your loyal customers in advance that you're improving it – and why the changes you're making are genuine improvements.
  2. Don't blow off customer complaints. What's even worse to a consumer than not having her problem solved is being told that it's a figment of her imagination. It's adding insult to injury, and people like neither.
  3. Avoid serial-purchase promotions. When you offer action figurines or trading cards free with each purchase and advertise to kids to collect the whole set, mothers know it's an attempt to force them into multiple purchases by manipulating their kids – and they understandably resent it. "Moms are quick to see these schemes as doomed from the start, and the brands behind them become something to avoid altogether," MediaPost advises.
  4. Don't sell products as "made for women" when they aren't. If you're advertising a product as "made for women," it should be actually made for women – not just a unisex product colored pink. The 2012 launch of "BiC for Her pens – “designed to fit comfortably in a woman’s hand” and with “attractive barrel design available in pink in purple,” they provoked literally hundreds of sarcastic reviews on the Amazon website alone, to say nothing of outraged blog posts and newspaper articles.
  5. Don't portray your audience as stupid or gullible. Dove's True Beauty campaign deservedly won the love and loyalty of millions of women world-wide – and then jeopardized it all with a video showing how they put one over on their audience. In it, women tell the camera how much more beautiful pharmaceutical-style Beauty Patches they'd been given to wear make them feel. Viewers then see those women's reactions when being told that those patches were placebos and that their feeling of beauty and self-esteem are based more on their minds than their bodies. New York Magazine's website called it "garbage," the Jezebel website called it Dove's "Most Bull---- Ad Yet," and YouGov noted "an initial down-trending with women for Dove on their buzz score" in their online brand sentiment surveys.
  6. Don't blow it at the retail level. "We’ve all seen those kids’ clothing stores that are merchandised so tightly they’re impossible to navigate with a stroller, the restaurants with great kids’ deals and too few high chairs, and the happy “family-friendly” airlines with no family pre-boarding," MediaPost writes. It costs very little – sometimes even nothing – to make sure that the purchase experience itself doesn't completely destroy the brand loyalty you've spent big advertising bucks to build.
  7. Remember that it's far easier to win enemies than friends. When a Social Media Explorer study tracked social media mentions of the top 50 brands, they found seven times as many mentions expressing hate as expressing love. "[S]ince it’s more likely that hate is fueling moms’ contributions to social media," advises MediaPost, "marketers need to steer clear of behaviors that land them swiftly and squarely on moms’ sh*t lists."

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