WSJ Crisis of the Week: Huggies Tries to Wipe Away Pain in the Glass

The crisis this week involves Kimberly Clark Corp. and its response to allegations from some parents that its Huggies brand baby wipes contained shiny particles that some outraged customers referred to as shards of glass. The issue went viral after a mother in California posted a video on Facebook.

Huggies issued two posts on its Facebook page–the first one saying it was working with the mother to find out what happened and how it could help, and the second one saying an independent test found no traces of glass or fiberglass in the wipes. Kimberly Clark issued a statement citing the testing and saying it maintained confidence in its product, posted a link to frequently asked questions and told concerned customers to contact the company. None of that has stopped some people from demanding a recall.

Using only the company’s statements, the crisis experts looked at how well Kimberly Clark did in responding to the crisis, where it could have improved its response and what it should do next.

Tadd Schwartz, president and CEO, Schwartz Media Strategies: “In the world of diapers and wipes, change is certainly a constant. Huggies hasn’t gotten the memo. Huggies has built a trusted brand and has managed to win over one of the most discerning segments of the market: parents. Given the loyalty they’ve earned, it’s no surprise Huggies is standing behind its product and manufacturing techniques in the face of this crisis.

“While its actions in managing the flow of information–engaging on Facebook early, commissioning an independent study and posting a detailed Q&A online–were on-point, their messaging failed to address that today’s consumers expect and appreciate innovation. Instead, they staunchly defended their decades-old production methods.

“Huggies would have been smart to send the message that they constantly evaluate their processes and formulas and that the procedures they’ve used for the past 25 years are still preferred. Likewise, the company could have doused the firestorm by initiating a temporary, no-questions-asked return policy.

“As a parent and Huggies customer, I find it unusual that Kimberly Clark doesn’t include a 100% satisfaction guarantee on their Huggies packaging. These policies are common in the world of personal care products, and from a consumer perspective it’s not enough to rely on retailers to stand behind a product.

“This incident should motivate Huggies to add a transparent return policy to its packaging. Doing so will go a long way toward mitigating public outcry the next time a crisis strikes. The bottom line: Consumer brands cannot remain inflexible with their policies, especially in today’s digital world. Huggies’ fast action response was strategically on point, but its message was off.”

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