Judge and Jury: Persona could have brought a personal touch to reliability row - Unipath should have tried to appear more caring without admitting liability in the row about its Persona contraceptive, says Neil Kendle, chairman of Fusion Communications

A contraceptive device manufacturer might be expected to understand the concept of prevetion - and good crisis management starts with prevention.

A contraceptive device manufacturer might be expected to understand

the concept of prevetion - and good crisis management starts with


If you raise consumers’ expectations too high about a product you’re

asking for trouble. Over the last week criticism in the media of the

Persona contraceptive and unwanted pregnancies in women using it, has


Was the product overhyped at launch and, if so, has this contributed to

the current situation?

An editor of a trade magazine close to the issue thinks not. She feels

sorry for Unipath, the manufacturers and thinks that the company went to

great lengths to educate doctors and pharmacists about the product and

its level of effectiveness.

A lot has been made about whether the level of effectiveness the company

quotes - 94 per cent - can be substantiated. But the real questions for

me are: did the manufacturers make clear to users what 94 per cent means

in terms of risk - that is one in 17 users each year will become


The company’s position seems to be that all users should have understood

the implications of that percentage but I am not convinced that they


Secondly, did the style of promotion match the reality of the


At launch Persona was supposedly billed by the manufacturers in

advertising as ’the biggest thing to happen to contraception since the

sixties’ and described overall as ’as reliable as a condom’. If they did

promote it this way, doesn’t there seem to be a mismatch between the

reliability data and at least the tone of the promotion?

It is essential in situations such as this for companies to show

compassion and concern. Of course Unipath will want to avoid saying

anything which might be deemed to be admitting liability but it is

possible to empathise with these women without admitting liability. I

haven’t seen any expressions of concern from the company about unwanted

pregnancies and I’m afraid that the quotes I have read from the UK

general manager make it look uncaring.

Unipath is running an advertisement in the national press under the

headline ’Know the facts’, explaining their position. If it wants the

Persona to be used properly and to make it clear for which type of women

it is suitable, this is an opportunity to do that. In fairness, the ad

does, but only in the 15th of 19 paragraphs and not before it has

featured endorsements from three ’satisfied users’. We know there are

going to be satisfied users, it’s the dissatisfied ones that matter.

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