News and Updates from 5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian

Did Crest Mislabel their Product?

Few people noticed, but Crest’s mouthwash once featured one very questionable label. Whether it included an actual error, or left meaning open to interpretation, the phrasing was dubious. On the label, Crest promised customers 24-hour protection, but required them to use the product twice per day.Wouldn’t the need to use the product twice in 24 hours mean that it only offers 12-hour protection? Anything can offer 24-hour protection if you take enough of it, or use it several times per day. However, it seems unlikely that this was the message Crest wanted to bring across to the masses.

Even so, that is how the company chose to phrase it. Whenever Crest got the chance to elaborate on the benefits of the mouthwash, it phrased it as “24 hour protection against plaque and gingivitis when used twice per day”. This brilliant re-working showcased creative PR work. In fact, not even internet trolls saw through the mistake and the brand remained basically untouched. Still, the company took no chances, as it quickly introduced a new label for the next batch of Crest’s Pro-Health Invigorating Clean Multi-Protection Mouthwash. In fact, Crest removed the product with the old label from the website and even threw in a new bottle. Today, the new front label only informs that the product fights plaque and gingivitis.

It no longer provides directions on how often the product should be used. It also no longer states how long the protection lasts from using the product. This radical re-design to remove such bold claims implies that Crest made the original label in error. While this shows creative ways to handle the problem, other companies can handle this issue differently. Aside from attracting internet trolls and bad press, mislabels can create legal problems if it makes false claims. Companies may also face legal troubles if labels do not include ingredients that may prove harmful or lethal to users.

In these situations, and legal teams advise companies to recall the product to ensure the safety of users. If customers suffer harm from using the product, the company may easily face expensive civil or class lawsuits. However, the mislabeling of the Crest mouthwash did not threaten the safety of any customers, so there was no immediate need to issue a recall.Companies can also utilize good old honesty in this situation. Customers do not take kindly to companies making mistakes. Ironically though, they like to see companies take responsibility for their errors, especially when they didn’t even notice one was made. This paints the picture of a proactive company, which prides itself on honesty and transparency. In short, it builds trust.

Crest could also easily turn the situation into a humorous one by featuring ads that might show comic versions of how the mistake was made. Maybe a villain from a competitor broke in, or a worker with bad allergies sneezed and hit the wrong button. This would make for quite an interesting campaign which both admitted to the issue, but offered a comic apology.The company could also use ads which showcase that “doubling up just in case” remains a more effective method of doing almost anything than just relying on the bare minimum – including using their mouthwash. This too could use comic ads to express the message.

Ultimately, Crest used neither of these methods and managed to cruise through undetected with the help of a good marketing and public relations team. With their help, the company weathered a storm the rest of us didn’t even know was brewing. This shows not just stealth, but a keen knowledge of their consumers and how the market works.In essence, Crest demonstrated the importance of knowing their customers. They knew that most people never spend a great deal of time reading labels, when most mouthwashes promise the same thing. They banked on this hope, coursed through the error, and quickly issued a new design – just in case the label failed to escape the keen eyes of that one person, likely to blast the company for its mistake.

Good going, Crest!

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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