The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

March 1, 2013

Other Views: Power of the people


The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.

— Gedney Pickles can blame the government for its labeling faux pas. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defined the standards for pickles, including the “midget,” a pickle measuring 19 millimeters or fewer. So Gedney sells jars of midget pickles in some of its product lines.

Not for long.

A Rhode Island mom whose daughter is diagnosed with dwarfism took offense. After the woman blogged about the issue, made a YouTube video and contacted Gedney, the pickle company bit. It’s taking the “midget” label off its future products.

Gedney and other companies are listening closer to consumers who now have the power of social and electronic media to spread their dissatisfaction faster and farther than ever before. It’s like Ralph Nader to the nth power.

Businesses are responding quickly and publicly to criticism gone viral. Hasbro, the maker of Easy Bake ovens, introduced “gender neutral” colors instead of only manufacturing pink and purple ovens after an online campaign about the issue. The change was prompted after a 13-year-old New Jersey girl took the company to task on behalf of her younger brother.

This power of the people is a great thing, especially if speaking up will right clear-cut wrongs.

Sometimes, however, situations are not so clear-cut. The Gedney label wasn’t an intentional slight and probably wouldn’t be offensive to most people. The midget label was all about naming the pickles as defined by the USDA. But it’s enlightening to think a top executive listened and said yes, we can drop that term from the label because it needlessly offends some people.

Here’s the thing, though. In Minnesota, Gedney labels those same pickles as “baby” dills. Are parents of little babies next in line to attack Gedney? “Baby” isn’t usually seen as a derogatory term as “midget” is, but when should businesses just ignore complaints, especially when they spread like crazy on the Web?

Clearly consumers shouldn’t lose their heads and abuse their own power if they want to retain credibility. After all, there are lots of labels and brands that could be overanalyzed as being unfair or harmful. Senior citizens could accuse Old Navy of ageism and demand it change the store’s  name to “Gracefully Mature Navy.” Or some women might demand they have equal rights when it comes to recliners and campaign that La-Z-Boy also produce “La-Z-Girl” products.

How quickly we could get out of hand once we realize how much power we really have.

It’s up to consumers to be sensible about what to be offended by and companies to be open-minded and consider legitimate concerns. Crying wolf too often takes its toll (no offense, Minnesota Timberwolves).

The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.