Heinz move mobilises online parent power

Stuart Bruce has just moved from being a stakeholder of Heinz baby milk to being a public with his post: Farleys baby milk and why is Heinz telling lies and ripping off customers?

I am a non-public in terms of having no general interest in baby milk – but I am now aware of an issue that is mobilising parents online (see Mumsnet, Askbabytalk and Netsmum).  Indeed, Stuart has created a Facebook group (so far with 20 members) as well as blogging his annoyance.

It seems amazing that Heinz hasn’t considered the power of social networking and new media to spread the story about a 70% price increase as it replaces its Farleys brand with one called Nurture.  The only reason for the hike given by the company is to reflect reformulation of the ingredients and new packaging (despite criticisms of the new tins when launched last month in Australia). 

Clearly Heinz is familiar with online marketing as there’s been plenty of chatter about free samples of Nurture being available in Australia.  Now we’ll see if it can manage an emerging online issue that is mobilising mothers and fathers.

Nigel Dickie, Heinz UK & Ireland Director of Corporate Affairs (is he the same Dr Nigel Dickie reported as a nutritionist consultant to the company in 2001?) has responded to correct information regarding ingredients within Nurture infant mils in a letter to the Herald, but I haven’t seen any evidence of him engaging in the online chatroom discussions. 

Mind you, he’s probably still catching up from June’s “crisis” over the gay mayonnaise advert – which apparently led to his mobile number being removed from the company’s media contacts list online.

Dickie is also cited responding to a 2006 crisis over moving production of the HP brand to the Netherlands.  Clearly a well known brand will attract a lot of public and media attention, but the marketing team at Heinz seems quite good at stimulating adversarial publics – some even cynically see this approach as a publicity ploy.

One could wonder if a professional PR practitioner might not be better placed to advise the organisation on avoiding such crisis rather than a nutritionist.

Beyond crisis management, there’s also a major CSR consideration here as Stuart writes, in reaction to a previous claim by the Farleys’ brand:

You can’t claim to be “Committed to fair prices” and then hike the price by 70%. That means you are lying and that is something a brand should never, ever do.

A boycott has been called for – and the Baby Milk Action blog reflects on a betrayal of mothers.  This group is already active on the issue of Baby Milk, but can now co-orientate with parents who are angered by Heinz, creating a larger group of active publics.

Does the online chatter matter and will it lead to a change of direction by Heinz? There has been some take up in the national UK media and undoubtedly the specialist parent press will have picked up on the topic.  But most parental publics will be established by good old fashioned word of mouth. 

Heinz should take note of what is being said online, especially in the specialist chatrooms, because this is undoubtedly a snapshot of how the story is spreading between parents who are connected in the real world through a wide range of social and formal means.

If Heinz does back down, the campaign will become another (like HSBC and Cadbury’s Wispa) that are claimed as a success for social media.  In reality, it will be parent power offline that will prove to be the real driver of opinion and action.

Whether PR at Heinz can work more closely with the marketing guys to avoid such issues emerging in future is another matter – but maybe given all the online chat, the company views all publicity as good publicity.  That’s two fingers from the Heinz 57 at us all.

One Comment

  1. Tim Trent says:

    I do rather wonder if Nigel Dickie is not like the old “Sister Marion” department for a feminine hygiene company. But, if he is real, having his mobile receive text messages about the deli mayo PR fiasco all day must have been unamusing.

    Over that matter Heinz seems to have said all it is going to say. The power of social networking seems to have been limited in that 3.5 mill.ion members of the American Family Association have more buying power than 7581 members of a Facebook group and 15012 signatories to an online petition (who are admittedly not asking for the right thing).

    Yes, H J Heinz does not care. Or perhaps they decided that the advert was good viral marketing. In either case tghe Deli Mayo is on their corporate face.

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