P&G lets consumers trash Tide to Go on message boards

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What's a marketer to do when consumers say its cleaning product smells like puke? In P&G's case, the answer is nothing.

Some people have complained that Tide to Go stain-remover pens ruin clothes by leaving yellow spots and smell like vomit after a few weeks of use-and they've taken to Tide.com's message board to make those complaints.

"The odor is so bad it's embarassing [sic]," said one message on Tide.com. "I had to just throw [the pen] out along with all my ruined clothes."

More surprising is how the brand has responded: Not at all.

In what may be the best, or at least most extreme, example of P&G Chairman-CEO A.G. Lafley's "just let go" philosophy regarding consumer empowerment, the company's flagship cleaning brand never weighed in on months of debate and sometimes virulent complaints on its message board about Tide to Go's performance.

"We've been actually excited to leave [the message board] as an open forum and an open opportunity for dialog from our consumers with as little oversight or Big Brother-type role as possible," said P&G spokesman Kash Shaikh. "One of the things we're passionate about is trying to mean more to more people. One way we can do that is by letting go and showing we're committed to their viewpoints. We're happy to see so many people engaging with our brand."

By last week, the "Tide to Go Pen-Disaster" thread with about 30 messages, roughly half negative and half defending the brand, rotated off the front page of Tide.com's message boards after at least two weeks there-moving several page clicks back in the queue. But another thread containing several negative reviews, albeit with a less provocative header, remained up front.

Likewise rotating off the front of message boards last week was another thread with about 500 messages-the busiest by far on the site-concerning an online instant-win game launched in July. Many were complaints the game wasn't working right, though several were from people who won prizes.

Mr. Shaikh noted that most of the topics and messages on the boards are positive. Remarkably, Tide to Go reviews on Tide's site are more often negative than the overwhelmingly positive ones elsewhere on the web.

Mr. Shaikh acknowledged that because Tide.com's message boards are more prominent than its "Contact us" link, some consumers with gripes may gravitate toward the boards. But packaging directs consumers to toll-free lines, where he said the pen has had few complaints. Packages also tell consumers to test Tide to Go on small, unseen areas of clothes and that it works better when used on fresh stains, he said.

"If you tally up all the comments throughout the launch [which began last year], it's been overwhelmingly positive," he said.

He suggested some of the negative comments may come from competitors. "We don't monitor competitor activity or usage of the site," he said, "as part of our commitment to keep this discussion board unregulated."

There are limits, though.

"If something were on there that's just blatantly wrong, like something about detergent causing cancer, we'd obviously step in and have an official note that this is incorrect," he said. "But if it's just personal experiences, whether they're a little over the top or exaggerated or coming to the defense of the product, we kind of let people go with it."

"It seems a little incongruous to have unanswered complaints on a brand website," said Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer of VNU's Nielsen Buzzmetrics, which measures online buzz.

But he said most comments on Tide.com are positive and that allowing negative ones-as Dell or General Motors have on brand blogs-builds credibility.

Then again, he said, "content rotation is a good strategy."
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