The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Procter & Gamble launches campaign through social media for clean drinking water

2012_0924_ClintonInitiative Proctor & Gamble, with Smokey Robinson, second from left, present a new social media campaign for cleaner drinking water. (The Hagstrom Report/Jerry Hagstrom)


NEW YORK CITY — Can a major corporation be as successful using social media for charity as opponents of “pink slime” were in reducing use of the hamburger ingredient?

The question came to mind here this week when Procter & Gamble announced at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting that it has formed an alliance with singer Smokey Robinson to launch a Twitter and Facebook campaign to raise money to distribute packets of P&G’s water-purifying technology so that people in some of the poorest countries in the world can get clean drinking water.

Earlier this year when a blogger launched a campaign against the use of a hamburger ingredient that became known as “pink slime, many people in agriculture became very wary of the impact of social media. Even though USDA officials and consumer activists said that pink slime — technically known as lean, finely textured beef — is safe, the online publicity led to consumer rebellion, the closure of three plants that made it, and the Agriculture Department offering schools a choice between hamburger that contained it or not.

But the announcement by P&G, which sells its products in grocery stores throughout the United States and is expanding in developing countries, is a testament to the likely power of social media to affect public opinion in the future.

P&G CEO Bob McDonald told reporters that, as a humanitarian extension of its home cleaning products business, the corporation had worked with the Centers for Disease Control to develop the water-purifying technology. One small P&G packet quickly turns 10 liters of dirty, potentially deadly water into clean, drinkable water. The packets, which are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency as a water purifier, can be used anywhere in the world, including areas affected by natural disaster.

P&G launched its Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program by distributing the water purifying packets at cost or free in the poorest areas to nonprofit groups, but wanted to find a way to raise more money for the groups to distribute the packets, McDonald said. He also acknowledged that distributing the packets will create good name recognition for P&G in the long run, as people in developing countries get richer and can afford P&G products.


Smokey Robinson
Robinson, who has been active in social causes since the civil rights movement, had decided to launch Smoke Alarm, using a new digital platform called “cause swarm” developed by David Clark, a longtime promoter of concerts that benefit causes.

Former President Bill Clinton told Robinson that he had been impressed with the ability of P&G’s technology to clean up water quickly, and Robinson decided to raise awareness of the problem of unsafe drinking water in Africa and other places as the first Smoke Alarm project.

Robinson said he has set up a Smoke Alarm Web site where people can sign on to his campaign. When 200,000 people have joined, Robinson will “sound the alarm” by sending a tweet to his followers and his celebrity friends including Elton John, Eva Longoria, James Franco, LMFAO, and Darryl Hall, who will retweet the message to all their followers.

Clark noted, however, that “This isn’t just top-down celebrities,” and suggested that individuals should re-tweet the message to their followers and friends.

“The whole world is twittering,” Robinson told reporters, adding that he believes Smoke Alarm as an emergency broadcast network will be a much faster and more efficient way to to bring attention to causes and raise money than rock concerts, which require much organization and money to produce.

As of this evening, more than 44 million people had signed up at Smoke Alarm. Clark has also said that the alarm will be sounded no more than three times per year.