Bauschwhacked! The Anatomy of a Recall
Why consumers are wary of 'we,' 'us' and 'our'
May 18, 2006: Vol. 2, Issue No. 39
IN THE NEWS
Health Concerns Prompt Recall of Contact Cleaner
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Bausch & Lomb Inc. has permanently withdrawn a new-formula contact lens cleaner viewed as the "potential root cause" of an outbreak of fungal eye infections. Its stock, hit hard recently, rose Monday nearly 13 percent.
—Ben Dobbin, The Associated Press, May 16, 2006
Americans love to tinker with their God-given flesh cases. Facelifts, hair transplants, electrolysis, liposuction and tattoos are some of the procedures that are undergone by those who want to look younger, more hairy, less hairy, thinner or like objets d'art.
To improve her vision, my neighbor had laser eye surgery. I cringe at the idea of tampering with one's eyes. Even seeing people insert and remove contact lenses gives me the creeps.
If you want to terrify a consumer, suggest that blindness could be the result of a common, everyday procedure such as wearing contact lenses.
Bausch & Lomb, in business for 153 years, is learning this lesson the hard way.
Here is how the Florida law firm of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley leads off its Web site to announce its class action business against Bausch & Lomb:
Bausch & Lomb ReNu Recall. Fusarium Keratitis Class Action Lawsuit a Special Alert to Contact-Lens Wearers:
Your eyes could be in Danger. Bausch & Lomb ReNu with MoistureLoc Linked to Fusarium Keratitis.
The eye is the window to the soul, says an old proverb.
At Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley , we don't know whether or not that's true.
What we do know is this: there are few things more painful or more dangerous than eye infections. And we are outraged that innocent victims are facing cornea scarring or blindness at the hands of a contact lens solution manufacturer, despite repeated warnings from the FDA.
By May 15, 2006, the count of U.S. users of contact lenses who contracted Fusarium Keratitis, an eye infection, reached 122. Most were Bausch & Lomb customers.
If you are Bausch & Lomb, how do you deal with this PR catastrophe?
A Laser Surgery Story
Many years ago, Seattle guru Bob Hacker, one of the most brilliant and knowledgeable direct marketing consultants on the planet (and also one of the most feisty), made a sales call together with one of his account supervisors on a laser eye surgery center.
The head surgeon said his direct mail was not working and was not interested in pursuing it. Hacker asked to see the letter, eyeballed the copy and said, "I can quadruple your response or I will pay for the mailing and not charge you a fee."
Hacker's associate, who was trained never to make outlandish promises in initial meetings, nearly lost it. "How could you say a thing like that?" he barked on the way to the parking lot.
Hacker explained that this lead generation contained the following sentence in the second paragraph:
And what's more, when we cut into your eye it doesn't hurt nearly as much as you think it would.
"Take that line out and response will quadruple—at least," Hacker said.
Hacker did not land the account, but his critique of the letter was spot-on. Does a person exist anywhere on the planet that does not have a lurking fear of losing vision?
Bausch & Lomb's PR Debacle
For the Bausch & Lomb Company, roughly 23 percent of its $2.2 billion in sales came from contact lens care products. In 2005, ReNu with MoistureLoc accounted for $45 million from an estimated three million customers.
July 17, 2002: The Atlanta District Office of the FDA sent a "WARNING LETTER" via Federal Express to chairman Ron Zarella outlining deficiencies in the manufacturing processes at the Greenville, S.C. plant.
November 2005: Health authorities in Hong Kong noticed a spate of eye infections, primarily from contact lens wearers who used ReNu with MoistureLoc. The company undertook an investigation.
February 18, 2006: The Singapore Ministry of Health reported dozens of cases of this eye infection that appeared to be the result of people using this product.
The Hong Kong and Singapore batches of the solution—as well as that which was sold in the United States—were manufactured in the South Carolina plant that had received the 2002 warning from the FDA.
Several days later, Bausch & Lomb withdrew the product from the Hong Kong and Singapore markets.
Over the course of the next two months, as reports of eye infections by users of ReNu with MoistureLoc across the United States were surfacing, retailers began removing the product from their shelves. Among them: Wal-Mart, Walgreen, Albertson's and CVS.
April 13, 2006: Bausch & Lomb announced that it would not recall its contact lens cleaner, even though consumers were changing to other brands.
April 14, 2006: Bausch & Lomb ran full-page ads in major newspapers—"An Important message from Bausch & Lomb"—signed by chairman Ron Zarella. Underneath the letter was a Q&A about Fusarium Keratitis.
The letter starts with a policy statement from the corporation:
Dear Loyal ReNu Customer,
For more than 150 years, Bausch & Lomb's mission has been to enhance your vision. Our highest priority is protecting the health and safety of your eyes.
Zarella then speaks personally.
I am writing this letter because we find ourselves in a position where the safety of one of our products, ReNu® with MoistureLoc,® manufactured at our United States plant, is in question. And that most certainly raises questions for you. I apologize for the confusion of the past few days and will try to clear up what I can.
What is disturbing the to customer is the line "will try to clear up what I can." The implication is that he does not have a clue what is really happening and that he is scared to death.
Zarella then lapses into corporate-speak, using "we" and "our."
When reports of a rare eye infection, seemingly associated with our product, began to surface, we began a series of exhaustive tests on our products, and a thorough inspection of our U.S. plant. Nothing has yet been found to show that ReNu with MoistureLoc contributed to these infections in any way.
However, because the health and safety of your eyes will always be our first priority, we've stopped shipments of ReNu with MoistureLoc from the U.S. plant, and are asking retailers to take the products off the shelves until the investigation is concluded. We also recommend that you discontinue using ReNu with MoistureLoc for the time being and switch to another product such as ReNu® MultiPlus,® which has been relied on by contact lens wearers for years, the original ReNu® Multi-Purpose solution, or to another respected brand.
By now, ReNu with MoistureLoc was on life support.
Around this time, Bausch & Lomb spokesperson Meg Graham told the media about the Feb. 18, 2006, Singapore warning of an "unusual spike" in eye infections. She stated that this was "the first indication we had that there may be an unusual occurrence with this infection."
That was a flat out lie.
April 27, 2006: The Wall Street Journal ran a story with the following headline:
Bausch Was Told of Infections By Hong Kong Officials in Fall
November Notice is Earliest Acknowledged, Came Months Before Halt in Solution Sales.
Shading the truth is nothing new in the Bausch & Lomb corporate culture. On Nov. 5, 2002, New York University's Stern School of Business put out a news release written by Nicole Lynch that stated:
Bausch & Lomb CEO Ronald Zarella's resume claimed he had an MBA from NYU when in fact he never completed his degree. Originally reported by Herb Greenberg, senior columnist for TheStreet.com, Zarella did indeed attend the part time program at NYU's business school, but failed to complete the program.
May 16, 2005: ReNu with MoistureLoc was removed permanently from worldwide distribution. A full page ad titled, "An Important message from Bausch Lomb," appeared in newspapers across the country. The lead:
Dear Loyal ReNu Consumer,
I want to report to you on an important action we are taking, and why we are doing so, and what it means to you.
On April 13, we told you to stop using MoistureLoc® contact lens solution. Today we have decided to recall this product throughout the world. We will not introduce it.
For some reason, companies (or perhaps the lawyers) like to hide behind "we," "us" and "our."
Yet what is needed to save this bad situation—one in which a company spokesperson was caught in a lie—is the sense that an honest, can-do CEO is in charge.
I want to report to you on an important action we are taking, and why we are doing so, and what it means to you.
If it were Denny Hatch's letter:
I want to report to you on an important action I have taken, and why I am doing so, and what it means to you.
Richard Armstrong and the Power of "I"
One of the top direct response copywriters in America is Richard Armstrong. (Armstrong is also a first-rate novelist; his new book on monkey-shines in Las Vegas, "God Doesn't Shoot Craps: A Divine Comedy", is a hoot.)
In Don Jackson's and my "2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success," Armstrong wrote:
The most important word in direct mail copy (aside from "free" of course) is not "you"—as many of the textbooks would have it—but "I."
Armstrong's point is that to make a letter believable, you have to feel the presence of the writer. Using "we," "us" and "our" indicates that the writer is hiding behind a bureaucracy and is not really in charge.
"We" do not write letters.
"I" write letters.
A good friend of mine many years ago was a hale-fellow-well-met Scot named Ian MacKenzie, president of St. Martin's Press. I mentioned to Ian that I was in the midst of writing a novel about the Mafia running a candidate for mayor of New York and that my protagonist's favorite poet was Rudyard Kipling.
"Ah, Kipling" Ian exclaimed and hoisted a glass of whiskey to the memory of the late bard. "Say 'we,' 'us' and 'ours' when you're talking instead of 'you fellows' and 'I.'"
He quoted several other favorite lines, but that one stuck in my mind.
It is part of the last stanza of "Norman and Saxon," a dramatic monologue by a Norman king on his death bed who tells his son and heir how to govern the difficult Saxons.
It is imperative to make them look up to you, respect you, revere you, he counsels. A ruler cannot be buddy-buddy with his subjects.
"Appear with your wife and the children at their weddings and funerals and feasts.
Be polite but not friendly to Bishops; be good to all poor parish priests.
Say 'we,' 'us' and 'ours' when you're talking instead of 'you fellows' and 'I.'
Don't ride over seeds; keep your temper; and never you tell 'em a lie!"
"We," "us" and "ours" sets the speaker apart from the listener or reader. It is used when speaking ex cathedra or making public pronouncements in behalf of the government.
When intimate communications are called for, using "we," "us" and "ours" is cold and impersonal, rendering the speaker or writer faceless and, ultimately, weak.
One of the pillars of advertising—especially direct marketing—is the guarantee of satisfaction. I have no idea what lawyers first came up with the weaseling term "Limited Warranty."
The first recorded guarantee was written by Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century when he sent out a catalog offering books for sale:
Those persons who live remote, by sending their orders and money to said B. Franklin, may depend on the same justice as if present.
Whenever I write a guarantee for a client, it is always very personal and enclosed in an official-looking box. An example:
MY PERSONAL IRONCLAD GUARANTEE
You must be completely delighted with your purchase. If for any reason you are dissatisfied, you may return it for a replacement or a complete refund (including postage both ways) within 30 days with no questions asked.
A real person's signature must appear with it—either that of the CEO or the marketing manager.
No "we," "us" or "our" here. No faceless bureaucratic corporation making a faceless promise.
A real person is standing behind this product.
Sometimes the corporate lawyers will dilute my guarantee.
But I always try.
Meanwhile, according to Barnaby J. Feder's big story on the Bausch & Lomb debacle in this morning's New York Times, "a Florida woman has lost an eye and scores of other patients have undergone restorative corneal transplant surgery that has left them with astigmatism and other impairments."
"So far a dozen lawsuits are in the works, and Bausch & Lomb is looking at a potential payout of $1 billion or more."
Takeaway Points to Consider
- In dealing with a public relations crisis, it is important to let the media and the public—and customers in particular—know that a decisive, capable and honorable person is in charge.
- It can be dangerous to allow mid-level spokespersons to talk to the media. They often do more harm than good—especially if caught in a lie, as was the case with Meg Graham.
- Because of being part of the corporate bureaucracy, such a puppet must use "we," "us" and "our."
- Only the CEO can use "I," "me," and "my."
- Playing the delay game can be devastating. For example, what would have happened had Zarella said early in the crisis: "I have ordered the recall of ReNu with MoistureLoc from around the world, and it will not be reintroduced until I am absolutely certain it will never cause a problem." Instead, he dithered and the stock took a beating, as did Bausch & Lomb's reputation.
- Employees who lie in their résumés should probably be fired.
Web Sites Related to Today's Edition
Bausch & Lomb
Searcy Denny Scarola Barnhart & Shipley
Kipling's "Norman and Saxon"