Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Mummy bloggers spit the dummy over Nestle's spoilt milk
Hell hath no fury like a mummy blogger scorned - a lesson quickly learnt by Nestle this week after its attempt to buy bloggers' affections backfired spectacularly.
Nestle has become one of the world's most boycotted companies following international outrage by campaigners who claim that it is marketing baby milk formula as a substitute for breastfeeding to people in the developing world, who are often unable to mix it with clean drinking water.
Critics say the practice is killing children, while Nestle insists it does not encourage formulas over breast milk and that mothers should have the right to choose how to feed their babies.
Seeking to turn the tide of public opinion in its favour and save a brand that has been savaged by the power of social media activism, the company invited 20 of the most influential parenting bloggers to its US headquarters for a two-day all-expenses-paid meeting with Nestle's chief executive officer.
The event, putting Nestle's side of the story, ran from September 30 until October 1 and the company even sent free steaks to the women's homes, purportedly to feed the men of the house while the mummy bloggers were on the Nestle junket.
The bloggers were expected to write - presumably positive - posts from the event and Nestle set up a Twitter tag, "#nestlefamily", to aggregate their tweets. But as soon as the anti-Nestle activists discovered the tag, they stormed Twitter and the blogs with vitriol, overriding Nestle's attempt to massage the message.
"Advertising formula and providing free samples to women in developing countries could be likened to advertising free c-sections with a dirty knife and untrained medical staff," wrote the author of a blog called PhD in Parenting.
Now, more people than ever know about the anti-Nestle campaign as the protests spread virally. Thousands of people have joined more than 160 Facebook groups dedicated to boycotting Nestle.
"Data trends indicate that what began as a social media public relations experiment tapped into a large amount of dissatisfaction among influential audiences relating to Nestle's alleged corporate practices and ethical behaviour," said SR7, an Australian company employed by brands to monitor their reputations on social networking sites.
Anti-Nestle campaigners, including Baby Milk Action and the International Baby Food Action Network, claim Nestle's aggressive marketing in the developing world is leading to the unnecessary death and suffering of infants.
They claim bottle-fed babies are up to 25 times more likely to die as a result of diarrhoea in areas with unsafe drinking water.
UNICEF says about 1.5 million child deaths a year in the developing world are attributable to poor breastfeeding practices.
Nestle boycotts have been conducted since the 1970s but, with the advent of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, protesters from around the world can easily rally together and spread their message far and wide.
"The Nestle Family initiative again reinforces the power of social media and networks in shaping the outcomes of campaigns on these platforms," SR7 said.
At the end of this month, citizens' groups in more than 100 countries will hold their annual "Nestle-Free Week", with campaigners ramping up their online and street protests. It coincides with Halloween, a very lucrative event for the confectionary producer.
Responding to the #nestlefamily Twitter storm, Nestle Australia's corporate affairs manager, Fran Hernon, said the reactions were biased and "predictable".
"This just goes to show that the blogosphere is a tough place to try to have a rational argument!," she wrote in an emailed statement.
"The event at Nestle USA was held to introduce our company to a number of bloggers. It was very successful, which of course absolutely infuriated the small, biased, vocal group whose anti-Nestle opinions are so entrenched that no matter what we do, they will twist it to present us in the worst possible light."
Nestle has created a website, babymilk.nestle.com, which it uses to respond to many of the criticisms and to hit back at its detractors.