NEW YORK Procter & Gamble Co called reports that its new Pampers with Dry Max cause rashes and other skin irritations "completely false" as it aimed to contain a public relations threat to its biggest diaper innovation in 25 years.
The world's largest household products company said on Thursday that Pampers has been the subject of "completely false rumors fueled by social media."
The statement comes a day after the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said it launched a probe into the new diapers after some parents complained that they appeared to be the cause of rashes and chemical burns on their children.
Pampers recently updated its Swaddlers and Cruisers diapers with a thinner, more absorbent technology, which P&G has called its biggest diaper innovation in 25 years. The company has said the product went through extensive testing.
"These rumors are being perpetuated by a small number of parents, some of whom are unhappy that we replaced our older Cruisers and Swaddlers products while others support competitive products and the use of cloth diapers," said Pampers Vice President Jodi Allen in a statement.
She added that some of those parents "specifically sought to promote the myth that our product causes 'chemical burns.'"
The company said it has received fewer than two complaints about diaper rash for every one million diapers sold, which it said is average for its business.
PERCEPTION IS EVERYTHING
For brands that run into trouble with a product that causes injuries, branding expert Robert Passikoff said "the rule of thumb is the two Cs -- contrition and closure."
But even if the claims are false, or no link can be proved between the injuries and the product, the brand may still suffer, he said.
"It doesn't matter if it's true or false, perception is everything," said Passikoff, president of Brand Keys Inc, a brand and customer loyalty research consultancy. He said it is especially true when it comes to babies.
This is the "mother and father, the lion and lioness," Passikoff said. "The kind of protective, emotional levels that get raised are such that even the most rational argument is not necessarily going to satisfy."
A Facebook group called "Pampers bring back the OLD CRUISERS/SWADDLERS" rose to over 4,500 members as of Thursday evening, up from nearly 3,700 members a day earlier.
Pampers is P&G's largest brand, with annual sales of about $8 billion.
It is still unclear exactly how much the growing backlash may impact revenue and earnings for Cincinnati-based P&G, according to RBC Capital Markets analyst Jason Gere.
"I don't know if consumers will stop using Pampers and switch to Huggies," Gere said, referring to a rival diaper made by Kimberly-Clark Corp. "It's not a very clear situation."
Gere said that so far this is unlikely to take a big bite out of P&G's earnings, which totaled $13.44 billion last year. But he said the company could be forced to increase its spending on public relations and advertising.
"They might be spending a little bit more on PR and on advertising, especially to first-time moms to get them to the level of confidence in the product that maybe second- or third-time moms have," Gere said.
P&G also makes Tide detergent and Gillette razors.
Late on Thursday, class action law firm Keller Rohrback said it was investigating possible claims against the company.
(Reporting by Martinne Geller; Editing by Richard Chang and Carol Bishopric)