Christine Koh


I'm Christine Koh, a music and brain neuroscientist turned multimedia creative. I'm the founder + editor of Boston Mamas, co-author of Minimalist Parenting, co-host of the Edit Your Life podcast, and creative director at Women Online. Drop me a line; I'd love to chat about how we can work together!

Lessons from Pampers

pampers_sticker.jpgEarlier this year, Pampers provided 7 of my mamas with diapers and wipes to test across 11 kids from baby to preschool. The result was a thoughtful collective review on the pros and cons of various products across stages. I learned a lot from this review, and gained further insight into Pampers at their first mommy blogger meeting last week in Cincinnati.

Fourteen mom bloggers from across North America spent two days at Pampers Baby Care Headquarters, and at a general level, the experience was refreshingly similar to the Disney blogger event I participated in this spring in that it shed new light on a big brand that I assumed was solely focused on revenue. The folks I met at Pampers are deeply proud of their history within the framework of Procter & Gamble. Their research and development team works tirelessly on optimizing comfort for babies and usability for moms. And there’s an enormous amount of heart within their company; we met an amazing number of P & G “lifers” and learned about impressive global outreach efforts.

In a similar spirit to my Lessons from Disney report, here are the key points that struck me during the visit.

A rich, interconnected history. Our visit began with a tour of Procter & Gamble’s archives, which were fascinating from both vintage collector and brand identity perspectives. I had no idea how huge Procter & Gamble’s product umbrella was, and was particularly interested to learn about the scientific evolution of some of their products. Archivist Ed Rider showed us all sorts of interesting historical pieces (including wisps of John Wayne’s hair!), and described the following surprising cross-product development that emerged between laundry detergent, toothpaste, and osteoporosis treatment (Ed kindly re-translated these details to me via the e-mail below):

“One of the things that synthetic detergent does in the wash cycle is tie up the calcium in hard water to prevent the calcium from making fabric feel rough. This technology in Tide eventually made its way into tartar control Crest, where the calcium control technology helps prevent the calcium component of tartar from attaching to your teeth. Some doctors saw our research and patents in this area and hypothesized that this technology could also help control calcium in the human body. Making a very long story short, this led to the development of our osteoporosis drug Actonel.”

A passion for feedback. As a former experimental psychologist (married to someone with a degree in human factors engineering), I was truly impressed by Pampers’s dedication to usability feedback. One would think that they wouldn’t need to tweak a leading diaper right? Or that there wasn’t much else to tweak with a disposable diaper? We apparently were wrong on both counts. We visited the P & G Discovery Center, which essentially functions similarly to traditional psychology labs (minus the diapers of course). At the Discovery Center, local mothers come change their babies using various Pampers products and answer questions about fit, usage, and effectiveness. These moms are compensated for their time with gift cards to local grocery stores and they are welcome to bring older kids with them, who are able to play in the supervised Discovery Center day care.

A passion for product development. As I said, you wouldn’t think that modern diapers needed more tweaking, but we saw hard evidence to the contrary. The feedback generated by moms in the Discovery Center, coupled with innovations from the Pampers Research & Development team, fuel an impressive product development phase, where minute adjustments (to improve fit, comfort, absorbency, etc.) are rendered into daily prototype making sessions. We were welcomed into the actual lab where production line workers (working in pairs on either side of a diaper) assembled all the complex layers and pieces of the prototype diapers for testing in the Discovery Center. From a systems and operation perspective, it was amazing to see this level of hand crafting, and when we asked about the frequency with which they create prototypes, we were surprised to learn that it’s basically a full time ongoing process.

Focus on the future. Pampers's passion for product development is geared with an eye to meeting short and long term goals. We saw examples of recently rolled out improvements, such as an external wetness indicator (yellow stripe that turns green as diaper gets full) on the exterior of their newborn, 1, and 2 diapers. I found this development particularly handy, thinking back to my clueless days of new parenting, where I’d either stick a hand in Laurel’s diaper to check for wetness, or change countless diapers that weren’t really wet because it seemed as if schedule-wise, she should have peed in them by then. Liza Sanchez, Director of Product Development, answered my inquiries about eco-friendly future development; their team has immediate and long term goals (anywhere from 3 – 20 years in projected implementation), examples of which include identifying renewable sources for their products (immediate) and implementing part reusable/part disposable diapers (long term).

Committed to the environment. Regular readers know that I have become a bit of a green parenting guru, so of course I was the one piping up with questions about Pampers’s commitment to environmental practices and potential development for biodegradable diapers. Bruce Jones, Global Director of Product Quality, described Pampers’s life cycle approach; looking beyond the simple metric of landfill waste, and instead taking into account (and taking action on) factors such as reducing everything from material in the diapers, to packaging waste, to transport fuel, to production energy and water use. Bruce directed us to a very interesting (and surprising) independent environmental study - Life Cycle Assessment of Disposable and Reusable Nappies in the UK - that was commissioned by environmental agencies in the United Kingdom (i.e., not affiliated with P & G).

The study compared disposable diapers vs. home laundered flat cloth diapers vs. commercially laundered prefolded cloth diapers delivered to the home, evaluating the life cycle environmental impacts of the various diapering methods during the first 2.5 years of a child’s life. For each method, the study considered the impact of the materials, chemicals, and energy consumed during the manufacturing and transportation process, use and disposal, and environmental emissions. I haven’t yet had a chance to sit down and sift through their analyses and data, but based on their summary conclusions, surprisingly, no system clearly had a better or worse environmental performance, although the different systems impacted the life cycle stages differently. In short, it doesn't appear that disposable diapers are on the radar, but Pampers is actively committed to reducing their environmental impact across various life cycle stages.

Commitment to babies around the world. I receive lots of pitches about ways in which big and small companies are making a different via outreach, but I was truly impressed to learn how well Pampers walks the walk. Their global outreach program seeks to create products that work for different cultural markets (e.g., diapers to accommodate Chinese split pants) and also make a difference in impoverished populations. Pampers currently is partnering with UNICEF on a One Pack = One Vaccine campaign to protect women and babies from tetanus, which commonly (and tragically) is transmitted through unsterilized tools and the mud used to cut and stop the bleeding of umbilical cords during delivery. This campaign launched stateside in April (Salma Hayek is their spokesperson) and runs through the end of August. And it’s simple for moms to participate in the campaign. For each pack of Pampers purchased (bearing the special One Pack = One Vaccine label shown above), Pampers will donate 1 vaccine to UNICEF to treat women in developing countries.

The passion for this campaign is remarkable; Pampers employees have been donating out of pocket to the cause, and Pampers also is raffling off two trips to their employees, so that their employees can see the impact of this partnership on the ground. Pampers also has donated scores of vaccines to the effort. During Salma Hayek’s spot on Oprah they donated 1,000 vaccines to UNICEF in honor of each audience member, and 1,000,000 vaccines in honor of Oprah. And Pampers concluded our meeting by informing us that they also are donating 1,000 vaccines to UNICEF in honor of each of us bloggers.

Passion at Pampers. I arrived in Cincinnati with an open mind to learning, but an admitted big-brand perception of Pampers. My perspective soon shifted, as I met more and more Pampers employees who were unbelievably passionate about caring for babies and mothers. I realize we were likely seeing the cream of the employee crop, but regardless, the emotions were genuine. In fact, it was surprisingly to all of us bloggers – for whom transparency and emotion are central to what we do – that this passion does not translate through in any of Pampers’s materials. Over the whirlwind couple of days we encouraged Pampers to find a way – whether through blogging or posting some of their amazing, less polished employee testimonial footage – to show the faces and passion behind the brand. It will be interesting to see where they go from here.

In sum, this was a fascinating trip in many ways and I am grateful to Pampers for including me in the opportunity. And per my full disclosure, Pampers generously assumed all of the trip expenses, but I was not paid to share these thoughts or required to write about the experience in order to attend (for the record, I wouldn’t agree to go to an event that made attendance contingent on editorial...). As devoted readers of this site know, all editorial on this site is not bound (advertorial or otherwise) in any way.

It was a pleasure to meet all of the P & G staffers and event organizers during the trip, as well as the following mom bloggers who attended the event:

Amanda (A Moms Review)
Amanda (Oh, Amanda!)
Erica (Yummy Mummy Club)
Elizabeth (Table 4 Five)
Elizabeth (Busy Mom)
Heather (Lil Sugar)
Isabel (Alpha Mom)
Kailani (An Island Life)
Karen (Thrifty Mommy)
Lisa (My Thoughts, Ideas, and Ramblings)
Mindy (The Mommy Blog)
Romi (True Mom Confessions)
Stacy (The DeBroff DeBrief)

Birthday Giveaway: Nagel Art & Co.

Birthday Giveaway: Arbonne