P&G Relies on Power of Mommy Bloggers

Giant Calls Them the 'New Influencers'; Will Recruit Up to 15 to Headquarters

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BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Procter & Gamble Co.'s Pampers is bringing as many as 15 top "mommy bloggers" to the company's Cincinnati headquarters later this month in what appears to be the company's biggest effort yet to reach online influencers.
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Bryan McCleary, director of external relations for P&G baby care

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That it's doing so with all-expense-paid trips could place P&G in a controversy similar to those that have confronted other marketers, such as Microsoft, in years past. But P&G sees the move as an emerging standard industry practice to inform bloggers, rather than buy their loyalty.

"It's official: Mom bloggers are the new influencers," said Bryan McCleary, director of external relations for P&G baby care.

Bloggers weren't really "on the radar screen in a major way" when P&G first began focusing heavily on "influencer marketing" more than five years ago. But at least in baby care, he said, the company is elevating them to the level of celebrities, mainstream media and health professionals in terms of influencer importance.

It's hard to put a precise number on the audience size represented by the invited bloggers, he said, "but it's substantial and growing."

Representing moms
Of course, P&G isn't the first baby-care marketer to notice bloggers. Johnson & Johnson's BabyCenter unit entered a partnership last year with Federated Media to form the BabyCenter Parenting Federation, a hub featuring 17 mom blogs.

"In and of themselves, they're not huge websites," said Tina Sharkey, chairman and global president of BabyCenter. "But they were voices we felt were representational of the different moms online. ... BabyCenter partnered with them so we could have a blog network not just for our consumers but also for marketers who wanted to get the reach of the influentials."

As for P&G, "we've made it clear that this is not really about pitching products per se," Mr. McCleary said, "but exploring areas of common interest, such as baby development and how to help moms in this topsy-turvy time in their lives."

All-expense-paid trips, however, have been controversial in the blogosphere, such as when Microsoft brought tech bloggers to Redmond, Wash., to meet Bill Gates, or when the Netherlands Board of Tourism and Conventions brought bloggers to Amsterdam.

P&G maintains that the Cincinnati event is "really more of a two-way dialogue" than a standard media event. "This is fairly common practice for companies and other institutions," Mr. McCleary said.

All quiet ... so far
Two bloggers who disclosed the coming trip in recent weeks haven't been criticized yet in posted comments at The Island Life (islandlife808.com) and Metropolitan Mama (metropolitanmama.net). Perks and swag have become debate topics among bloggers in the adjacent beauty space, said Emrah Kovacoglu, an ex-P&G digital brand manager who's now CEO of Total Beauty Media, which operates a beauty-review site with a network of 140 industry bloggers. He said the efforts reach a combined 2 million unique visitors monthly.

"Bloggers are humans like anybody else," he said. "There's a possibility some bloggers will be affected by the trip. But I think most will remain authentic in their writing and their audience won't be affected."

Total Beauty hosted an event of its own with about 55 bloggers last month in Los Angeles but with multiple marketers in attendance.

The same swag/perks controversy affects mainstream beauty media, Mr. Kovacoglu said, noting that negative product reviews are commonplace on blogs but rare in beauty magazines. "The reality," he said, "is that all these editors at [beauty] magazines are getting gifts from brands left and right too."
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