Monday, November 16, 2009

LA Times on Nestlé's Twitter PR Disaster

There is an interesting article in the Los Angeles Times about bloggers accepting corporate hospitality, gifts etc.

It includes reference to Nestlé's Twitter PR disaster last month, though lacks the full story. An extract from:

---Extract begins
But critics of the company countered that the event was a public relations ploy in reaction to an ongoing boycott of Nestle for marketing baby milk formula as a substitute for breast feeding in developing countries.

In fact, before the trip, critics reached out to the bloggers invited to California and urged them to not go.

No one canceled.

As the event got underway, the online conversation quickly turned into an online battlefield. The company's Twitter channel was so inundated with anti-Nestle messages, and nasty accusations aimed at the attendees, that it was essentially shut down. The company, caught off guard, let the parents field questions aimed at executives until finally stepping into the fray.
---Extract ends

I saw several bloggers say they had been invited to the event and refused to go. Not the same as canceling, but bloggers on the invitation list were not all blind to the conflicts of interest in attending, even if unaware of the boycott.

Nestlé is one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet, according to an independent survey, because it is found to be responsible for more violations of the marketing standards for baby foods than any other company.

The LA Times article is a little lazy in characterising the posts to the #nestlefamily hashtag as 'anti-Nestlé messages' and 'accusations aimed at the attendees'. The vast majority of posts were raising concerns about Nestlé practices and posting links to evidence (I became aware of the event through traffic to our sites) and responding to specific requests from some attendees for questions to put to executives, including the Chief Executive of Nestlé USA.

Nestlé came online briefly and offered to take questions. I offered to take part in a tweet debate directly with Nestlé on behalf of Baby Milk Action, but this was not taken up. Nestlé stayed on line for an hour or so, promising to come back the next day to respond to questions, but did not.

The fact is Nestlé runs from fora where there are people with the knowledge to challenge its bland assurances that it markets formula 'ethically and responsibly' (a claim that the UK Advertising Standards Authority found to be untrue when Nestlé made it in an anti-boycott advertisement). It not only ran from the questions on Twitter, it now refuses to debate with Baby Milk Action, after we won a series of them from 2001 - 2004. Nestlé refused to attend a European Parliament Public Hearing in 2000, when UNICEF Legal Officer was present to address questions regarding interpretation of the marketing requirements Nestlé should be following (Nestlé claims its own interpretation is correct, while dismissing all others, including UNICEF). And Nestlé refuses to even set out its terms and conditions for participating in an independent expert tribunal into its policies and practices.

Nestlé prefers to direct people to its own website and provide written answers, but not defend them when these are scrutinised, perhaps hoping the majority will accept its assurances at face value. Those who do look closer generally come away more shocked and dismayed at Nestlé's deceit as it tries to defend practices that contribute to the unnecessary death and suffering of infants.

Nestlé's reticence to engage with informed critics can be understood given how its response to questions put by the PhD in Parenting blog has fueled concerns rather than dissuaded those looking at this issue. Nestlé's answers have been posted in full on the blog, and can be found via:

As is often the case, Nestlé's attempt to divert criticism became a PR disaster and gave International Nestlé-Free Week a boost in the US in its third year. The week aims to encourage boycotters to do more and non-boycotters to do something to increase the pressure on Nestlé. Boycotting has forced some changes and greater involvement can only help. See:


Annie @ PhD in Parenting said...

Thanks for this post Mike.

I think a lot got lost in editing in this article. I understand from the reporter that it was much longer and that a lot of words got cut so that it would fit.

I also wish there had been mention of the many people who refused to participate in the event. With regards to cancellations, there was in fact one. I don't think it had anything to do with our pre-event education though (but it could have been).

Mike Brady said...

Thanks Annie - and for all your excellent analysis on your blog.

I have seen a blog by someone who was interviewed by the LA Times and attended the Nestlé event at:

This also refers to someone dropping out. The author defends attending events such as this. said...

Thanks for this. This is the typical Nestle reaction to challenges (ignore them, and continue with their bland, (largely incorrect) assurances.

I've seen it many times on the bottled water front, where the company's representatives simply say what isn't true.

Fortunately, some folks are willing to hold them accountable.

Mike Brady said...

There's an article picking up on the LA Times on The Big Money site at: