In early August, customers posted pictures on social media of sunburns they claimed to have gotten wearing Honest SPF 30 Sunscreen. This ultimately ignited a media frenzy putting the efficacy of Honest Sunscreen and natural sunscreen in general, into question.
Jessica Alba defended Honest Sunscreen in an open letter on the company’s blog.
Last week, a lawsuit was filed claiming that The Honest Company “deceptively and misleadingly” labels and markets products as being “natural.” The plaintiff, Jonathan D. Rubin claims that several products contain “unnatural” or “synthetic” ingredients specifically calling out Honest Hand Soap, Honest Diapers and Honest Multi-Surface Cleaner and stating that its sunscreen is ineffective.
According to People magazine, a new class action suit, filed by a different consumer “claims that the sunscreen is ineffective due to the company’s recent removal of more than half of the zinc oxide originally in the product, and displays pictures of sunburned adults and children who relied upon the sunscreen for protection.”
Jessica Alba officially enters the skincare and cosmetics world with the launch of Honest Beauty this week. Unfortunately, the media coverage around the launch focuses heavily on The Honest Company lawsuits. She is forced to defend The Honest Company, while promoting a new venture, which is never ideal.
Here’s what we can learn from all of this.
Use Caution with Natural Claims and Labeling
Once brands label products as natural, they are slapping a target on their backs. A product is either natural or it’s not. A few alternative labeling options include “made with natural ingredients,” “99% natural” or “naturally based.”
Are Honest Company products made with natural ingredients? Yes, but not all of them in their entirety. Do I believe the company used some synthetic ingredients for a consumer benefit, purposefully to enhance the safety and efficacy of its products? Yes. Was product labeling intending to mislead consumers or be deceptive? No. It is a company built on honesty and transparency. These attributes are the bedrock of its business. I believe that The Honest Company has fallen victim to the fuzziness and lack of regulation around natural product claims.
Prepare for the Worst
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Every organization must develop an issues and crisis preparedness plan. This is especially important with any form of drug. Sunscreen is considered an over-the-counter-drug and is regulated by the FDA. This also means manufactures are required to share adverse events with the FDA.
The Honest Company did a good job in responding reactively to media requests and proactively by publishing an open letter on its blog. This is likely due to the fact that they were prepared and have been monitoring and listening to customer feedback and reviews.
Take Control of the Conversation
Preparation is a critical step in having the ability to take control of the conversation with traditional media, on social media and with customers.
The Honest Company was uniquely positioned to do this by leveraging the star power of its co-founder, Jessica Alba. For the most part, The Honest Company issued relatively canned reactive statements. Only just this week, did it commit to launching a sun safety educational campaign for next year. This is of course a graceful way to say that the adverse events were due to user error. Nevertheless, it took The Honest Company much too long to meet the media head on and take a proactive approach.