Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Nestle Family twitstorm

I've been in the Nati for the past two days, where, in addition to presenting some kickass work and attending a brainstorm with my clients, I've been sampling Skyline Chili and Graeter's ice cream, watching Glee from a giant bathtub at the Cincinnatian Hotel and following the #Nestlefamily twitstorm.

You see, Nestle invited a bunch of parent bloggers to their headquarters for two days. They are far from the first major packaged goods company to invite bloggers in for a little wining and dining. The mom blogger junkets started in earnest with Johnson & Johnson's Camp Baby (which I was invited to but didn't attend back in early 2008), and since then Kraft, Campbell's, General Mills and Frito-Lay have all feted well-known mom bloggers.

As a marketer, I think the mom blogger invitationals are brilliant. For the cost of a few plane tickets, samples and meals, you get hundreds of media mentions and an instant brand ambassador with huge reach. It's a bargain. You also get to focus group these women (and a few men) and find out what's important to them, culling information you can use for product development, advertising and a variety of other purposes.

But what do the mombloggers get out it, aside from a free trip and a chance to hang with friends? Are they building their visibility and personal brand at the cost of being viewed as a sellout? And, in the case of the Nestle invitational, are they shilling for a corporation many view as unethical?

Like most people, I'm aware of the horrors Nestle inflicted in the third world in the 1970s and 80s with its aggressive marketing of infant formula. I saw it with my own eyes when I lived in Pakistan in the late 1980s. But I thought things had changed. Phd in Parenting, in this exhaustive post, claims abuses continue and challenges bloggers to decline Nestle's invitation or at least ask the company some tough questions while there.

For those who complain that mommybloggers are a bunch of navel-gazing ninnies (as some have with regard to the Motrin Moms twitstorm), behold the discussion of Nestle's corporate ethics that emerged on Twitter yesterday under the #nestlefamily hashtag. A few well-meaning moms were raising real questions about global issues to a company that said it wanted to open the channels of communication, but it quickly devolved into a shouting match pitting breastfeeding advocates against defensive formula feeders who perhaps didn't understand that formula feeding can be extremely dangerous in a country where access to safe, clean water isn't guaranteed or where parents might run out of funds for formula and end up watering it down to save money.

Peppered between these posts were silly little tweets from attendees talking up Nesquik, Stouffer's meals and cake mix recipes and psycho crackpots accusing Nestle of supporting infanticide and child labor. It was train wreck, in my opinion.

Shortly after I posted this, friend and fellow Chicago Moms Blogger Kim Moldofsky tweeted me with "I was waiting for the part about what to do next time or lessons learned." I'm not sure I have any real answers. What I do know is that bloggers love attention (I'm no exception). So when a big, multi-national corporation romances us, we get a little weak in the knees. It's easy to get swept off your feet in a flurry of four-star hotel stays, airline tickets and gifts. But take it from someone who knows what's happening on the brand side: don't be a cheap date. Don't tweet and blog free word-of-mouth because you've been wined and dined and you're so very much in love. Do your do diligence (research, ask tough questions, demand better products and service) and then, if you're still the brand's number 1 fan, by all means sing their praises from the rooftops.

Worth reading: