To put it another way, companies like AOL, Baskin-Robbins, Knowledge Adventure and Procter & Gamble are finding that when it comes to word-of-mom, dozens of glowing compliments more than make up for the few possible hits they might take.
When ModernMom.com began 18 months ago to offer companies the chance to have their products tested by real mothers, AOL climbed aboard with its Study Buddy software. P&G took one look and inked a deal to have its Mr. Clean Eraser with Foaming Cleaner sent to a panel of mothers, who shortly delivered their verdicts.
"The reason we did it," says Glenn Williams, public relations manager for Mr. Clean, "is that we look at products like our Mr. Clean Eraser and we know that the best influencer for the purchase of that is a peer. We wanted to get mom peers talking about the product."
Modern Moms Tested is a new part of the web site started in Los Angeles in 2002 by a marketing and communications expert and mother of two, Lolita Carrico. The test concept "started sporadically a few years ago," says Carrico from her cell phone, having just dropped the kids off at camp. "A client asked us to put a product in the hands of our readers. We've done it for Clorox, Mattel, AOL, P&G and other brands, but the 'Tested' campaign is fairly new."
With more than half a million visitors each month, per Carrico, and more than 100,000 subscribers to a daily newsletter, ModernMom.com chooses test panels from a base of 5,000 to 6,000 loosely screened moms. "We make sure they're legitimate moms, fit our demographic and can write," says Carrico.
Carrico tests products first, and if she doesn't like them, it ends right there. "We make sure it's something we would want to review," she says, admitting that she has turned down a couple of products she was unimpressed by.
Carrico says ModernMom.com is careful to retain its editorial integrity, maintaining that it does not receive payment for coverage. The site and staff, including five full-timers and a host of freelancers, is supported by advertising on the newsletter and on the site.
"We make it clear to our panelists that we want them to be very honest. If a brand is confident in their product, it's a great word-of-mom tool. There's a wonderful community aspect here. We're happy to be able to offer this opportunity to our moms, to get their opinions out there. Let's face it--moms love to talk."
So what did the moms say about Mr. Clean Magic Eraser with Foaming Cleaner? Two examples:
"I like the original Mr. Clean magic eraser better. There was not much foaming in this new product. I was disappointed."
"Have loved the Magic Eraser since it first came out. The foaming cleanser is a great addition to a wonderful product."
Says P&G's Williams, "I was not disappointed that a small percentage of reviews were less than favorable. It only adds credibility. If all of them were favorable, well, that's not the real world.
"The Internet, in some ways, is the bane of PR in that you have the false rumors, but it's also one of the biggest tools PR can leverage because it is a social medium where people get on and talk."