Desperate Nations Grow Desperate for Pampers


[This commentary is in response to the article and video seen here]

The camera zooms in on the small, clinical classroom where village women, babies pressed in tightly to bosoms, sing a lovely chorus in perfect harmony. It is a quintessential African scene, cheering up what might otherwise be a not-so-jubilant situation. Hone in on the words these beautiful mothers chant, however, and the joy of the moment is somewhat rocked by the bone-chilling words, catchy as a radio jingle. They sing:

One Pampers, one happy baby
One Pampers, one dry night

1 billion new customers await Procter & Gamble in the world’s Third World nations, many of them on the continent of Africa, where impoverished families struggle to meet even their most basic of needs. Parents are hard-pressed to provide food and clean drinking water to their kids. Larger luxuries like cars, televisions, and even radios are out of the question for a majority of the population, 70% of which are classified as poor in countries like sub-Saharan Nigeria. In that case, then, when you’re one of the world’s most powerful corporations and you’ve got your eye on this huge, untapped market, you must find new ways to promote yourself: create a living endorsement in each woman that walks through the market, that talks to her sisters, that helps a friend with a baby. Teach that one woman about the perks of Pampers for overnight diapering, give her a sample to try, and surely she will go forward and spread the Procter & Gamble gospel on your behalf, regardless of whether or not this new product–a luxury, to be sure–can be afforded by the mainstream.

Doubtless, raising a baby in a setting like Nigeria–whether rural or urban–is challenging enough without the added stress of diapering, especially considering that only 2% of families have a washing machine, even in huge bustling metropolises like Lagos. Finding water to do any sort of washing at all–even handwashing–can be a challenge. Many diaper-age babies wear crudely-fashioned cloth “nappies” as parents make do with the materials they can find around them. Washing is typically done by hand with multiple scrubs and rinses, often with handmade bar soap. It makes it easy to see why the traditional African way of life includes the practice of Elimination Communication, or diaper-free living that enables parents to read their child’s natural waste elimination cues and forgo the diaper route altogther.

However, even in these financially deprived times, Proctor & Gamble have set their eyes on this target market, where people typically live on less than $5 a day. At $2.30 for a pack of 10, their Pampers disposable diapers are a number one seller in Nigeria, an example of just one country of focus. With one baby in the house, most parents would know that 10 diapers could quickly be used up in 1-2 days, not to mention even faster if you have multiple little ones running around in diapers at the same time. At over half the daily living expense, it seems unfair, if not cruel, to create such an insatiable demand for these diapers in such an impoverished setting. Still, Pampers are promoted, at Procter & Gamble’s lead, as a healthy and desirable solution even from the local health clinics and schools, likely leaving many struggling parents who are already “in need” feeling even more so.

To be fair, yes, Procter & Gamble have stepped in with some products that make life easier for the African family, and African women in particular. The introduction of Always feminine pads does give adolescent girls the chance to attend long days of school away from home without the embarrassment and hygiene concerns that come along with having their periods. Procter & Gamble also does their fair share of donating to organizations that help some of the most down and out people in Nigeria, such as missions and orphanages that work overtime to care for countless parentless infants. This gesture does not go unnoticed, or unappreciated, by those pastors, volunteers, nurses, and aid workers who would find themselves in even harder times without this assistance.

The handouts are a kind gesture, to be sure; however, when P&G’s marketing strategy overtly states that it aims to win over 1 billion new consumers within the Third World by the year 2015, it definitely leaves you a little skeptical of their true motives behind the donations.

For more on this story, read the in-depth news report as well as watch a riveting 8 minute video via news.

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