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The dark side of influence

Fresh off the heels of BlogHer, I am home feeling very inspired and slightly unsettled.

The “mommyblogger” movement has been gaining momentum for some time now and big corporate America has bowed to their power on more than one occasion. The latest BlogHer survey showed that 85% of respondants made a purchase decision based on something they read on a blog. So the evidence backs up the notion that this growing network of moms is entitled to some respect. But with power comes responsibility, something this community is still working on.

This weekend, Nikon fell victim to the online equivalent of a lynch mob. Their crime? They threw a swanky cocktail party at a swanky bar for a handpicked group of bloggers. They provided hair stylists, makeup artists, massage therapists, and even brought in Carson Kressley for a celeb photo op. There was a chocolate fountain, fancy hors d’oeuvres, and adorable swag “purses.” They transported the guests from the hotel to the bar via stretch limousines. In other words, they went to great measures to make a good impression on this crowd.

Full disclosure: I was there, but not because I am in the same category as most of these other women. We are a newly-authorized Nikon dealer, and I am slightly evangelical about their D90 digital SLR. This was enough to score me a last-minute invite.

The trouble started when a couple of invited guests were turned away because they’d brought babies. The venue’s liquor license prohibits anyone under age 21 from entering the premises, infants included. The disappointed moms tweeted about it, and what ensued was rampant slamming of Nikon across the twittersphere, as angry moms accused the company of being clueless and out of touch.

The people at Nikon who had worked so hard on this amazing event ended up feeling stung by the criticism. They were just trying to give these women a night out, a pampering treat away from their kids and other responsibilities. But people who weren’t at the party, and who had no real understanding of the situation, picked up the ball and ran with it. They ran and ran, spreading the awful, ugly story like wildfire in an attempt to wreak as much havoc as possible.

There were a few sensible voices in the crowd, most notably the women directly impacted, who never intended for this to get so out of control. Nikon did apologize the following day, and just maybe, they can see the forest through the trees on this one. They did generate a lot of buzz this weekend, even if it wasn’t exactly what they had in mind.

It was really fun to be in Chicago, treated like royalty by brands like Proctor & Gamble, Pepsico, GM, Microsoft and, yes, Nikon. For a group of women who spend a lot of time doing mundane chores like driving carpool, grocery shopping, and sweeping Cheerios off the floor, it was a very refreshing change of pace. But will these brands continue to support a community that is so prone to catastrophic knee-jerk reactions? If we want the respect of these brands, we need to offer them a little courtesy of our own. No company ever gets it right 100% of the time, but the good ones want to right their wrongs. The immediacy of Twitter is an irresistably appealing venue for consumer complaints. That’s not going to change. But it’s so important to make sure you have the facts before lighting up the torches.

The brouhaha is settling down, but one debate is still smoldering. Should babies be universally welcome anywhere their mothers are invited?

6 comments

  1. Great story!

  2. Sheri,

    This is a great blog post! I appreciate your balanced presentation. Regarding your final question – so many places are family-friendly, but I don’t think every place needs to be. Parents have such difficulty setting limits these days – perhaps figuring out how to deal with some limits (besides throwing a tantrum) can help parents learn the value of setting them with their kids.

  3. I agree that we do not need to welcome babies everywhere that their mothers are welcome. One of the trade-offs you make when becoming a parent is that sometimes you have to choose between doing something you want to do and being with your child.

    However – based solely on what you wrote here (I have not been following the story overall), it sounds like Nikon misjudged their target audience and handled this inappropriately at the start. If BlogHer attracts a large number of women traveling with babies, then it is reasonable to assume that these women will expect to take their babies to most or all of the affiliated events. If babies were excluded due to legal restrictions, then the invitations should have included a polite line like this: “We recognize that some of our guests may be traveling with young children. Unfortunately, due to laws prohibiting the presence of anyone under age 21 at [Venue], we will not be permitted to allow entry to any babies or children. No exceptions will be made.” To really score points, they could have provided an on-site childcare option, or one at the hotel, or references for babysitters.

    The fatal move, I think, was catching these women by surprise.

  4. It’s very troubling to me when things get completely out of control like this. The Motrin moms issue was one thing — that was a big (ill conceived) marketing campaign; the Nikon event was a small event. And it should have been checked in advance whether babies were welcome.

    The thing that troubles me is that people are so quick to pull the trigger, and often don’t think about the consequences of their actions. Really, the proper thing to do would have been to email/talk directly with the host, and express concerns, and work it out off the radar (in case the whole thing was a misunderstanding, and not in fact flat out baby hating). It seems unprofessional and a bit cowardly to take a situation live without even trying to resolve it directly first.

    I hope folks can learn from this. Words are powerful. They matter. Even if it’s 140 characters or less.

    -Christine

  5. Nicely done Sheri, and so great meeting you this weekend. A real pleasure and we were honored to have you as part of our community.

  6. I must admit that I was offline most of the weekend thanks to spotty wifi and the general sense of havoc. We rode together in the prom-like limo (nice to meet you!) and I think it was one of the most hotly-anticipated parties of the conference. Of course, there was a pervasive grabbiness going on all weekend and the Nikon party had the misfortune of giving people something to bitch about. I didn’t realize there were baby-banning issues at the time. It seems like something that the marketers planning the event would remember to mention to a predominantly mommy crowd. Especially the ones who are fervent babywearers. I can’t imagine wanting to bring my kids or babies into that kind of atmosphere but people should have been told in advance that it was a no-no, especially given the flack that went on last year when babies were banned from an event… was it Camp Baby? (Obviously I wasn’t invited!)

    I heard more women bitching about the fact that Nikon handed out glamorous faux leather clutches containing… hand sanitizer and an SD card case. Oh, well. Those “dark room” chocolate martinis were good and the view was killer, rain notwithstanding. It was great fun getting to know some other bloggers.

    Of course, if Nikon wanted me to test drive a DSLR to make me feel better for not allowing entrance to my 2 year old, I wouldn’t say no. Even though he was hundreds of miles away at home. (Mostly) kidding.

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