Zicam and the Reputation Management Fiasco
Awhile ago, I used Twitter to talk about one of my favorite cold remedy vitamins, Airborne. It was then that two friends suggested Zicam to me. When stocking up on medication for the winter months, the high recommendations of Zicam had me buying the oral mist.
On Sunday night, after a rather interesting Superbowl XLII, I felt the onset of a cold. As most of these cold medicines suggest, you should take the medicine at the first sign of illness. I immediately thought of my Zicam and was eager to try it out to kill the cold before it really gets bad.
Monday morning, to continue to fight off whatever this may be, I took the recommended dosage of Zicam a second time. I went on my day realizing that I had lost the sense of taste. I ate leftover nosh from the game: really spicy salsa and chips. The spiciness did not impact me. I had some Hershey Kisses. The chocolate taste was dull, as if almost not there.
For the entire day, I discounted the idea that anything would be wrong (and that it was really a cold, after all). I left it alone until late at night when the problem continued to persist. I decided to search for “zicam tastebuds.” I figured that I couldn’t possibly be the only one with this temporary (or so I hope) loss of taste. The first result alarmed me.
It was a link to a class action suit that impacts Zicam users who have lost their taste (and/or smell) by using the spray.
Normally, I’m one who fights for strong reputation management. Now, I’m a victim. If I did this search again, I can’t say I’d want that #1 result to go anywhere. Apparently, Zicam is ranked for numerous health-related concerns and I feel that the results belong where they are. The result I was looking for was relevant to my needs and is certainly something that people should know about.
For all I know, Zicam isn’t out to change their rankings. But if they were looking to make a change, I think that reputation management offerings should still exist. Personally, this is one case that I’m biased about, as it really hits home. In the past few months, I’ve dealt with companies who are unfortunate victims of bad links in Google, but those links refer to incidents that are years old (and are even resolved). The pages, however, are not removed from the Google search results because the site owners often want to be “bought.” (“Pay me some money and I’ll remove the page.”) Poor rankings kill businesses, and negative rankings destroy trust. In those cases, I strongly encourage reputation management services — but I can’t say I agree with it all the time.
The Question: What Would You Do?
What would you do if you have a client who wants you to change their rankings but their mission conflicts with your interests? What if they are trying to push down rankings that you feel are important for public safety? While I’ve asked a doctor for his opinion on my particular case (and he said it happened to him too!), if I lost my sense of taste forever, I’d want other people to know about the dangers of the medication and not to have someone who is paid off to push the results down so that people who are doing solid research will be misled.
What is more important to you? Top dollar or public safety? I’d love to hear your thoughts about these particular cases in the comments.
Update 12/11/08: I was watching TV on Monday night and saw a Zicam commercial for the first time. Sadly, since Zicam is an over the counter remedy (for now), there was no required disclaimer for side effects. There was not one mention of the possible loss of smell or loss of taste reported on numerous websites by real people (who have no relationship to one another and simply want to report on a fact and not a myth). In fact, it seems that the company does not want to acknowledge that its chemical compound may actually really have a negative impact on a small fraction of individuals.
In reputation management, you need to own up to your mistakes. If Zicam has had hundreds of complaints about loss of taste or loss of smell, they are obligated to give a warning on the package, in promotional materials, and where any consumer may stumble upon the product. Instead, though, they are choosing to remain silent. I hope that if there’s anything you can take away from this article, it’s to be unlike Zicam. Own up to your faults and mistakes. By taking a proactive stance about a flaw you have within your product offering, your constituents would be better educated about the possible risks, and chances are, these negative reports about your product would not have reached the Internet anyway because the warnings would have been staring the consumers down in the face.