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Nurses flood Physicians Formula with letters protesting "nurse" ad; company immediately agrees to stop running it

Physicians Formula nurse adMay 2004 -- At least 90 nurses wrote to protest Physicians Formula's cosmetics ad featuring a "naughty nurse" image within the first 24 hours of the Center's campaign against the ad (and more have written since). In response, the company promised to stop running the ad, which had appeared in recent issues of major magazines including the May issue of "Shape." The Center applauds this prompt action, and thanks all the campaign participants whose letters made it happen. We are also urging the company to make amends, and we need your help. (full image is below or see the pdf)

Physicians Formula's response to the Center, and apparently to all who wrote, read as follows:

"First of all, we are sorry if we offended you and the nursing profession with our ad. It was meant to be an exaggerated nurse image that tied into our humorous ad campaign, which features images from the past updated for today. However, our goal is not to offend anyone, therefore, we have decided to no longer feature this ad in any future magazine issues.

Physicians Formula strives to provide hypoallergenic cosmetics safe for women with sensitive skin. Since 75% of Physicians Formula employees are women, we naturally have a high regard and respect for women and will continue to be a company that listens to our consumers as we feel their opinion is extremely valuable to us."

We are not sure exactly how this ad has "updated" an "image from the past," since to our knowledge real nurses have never dressed as provocatively at work as the model in the ad, nor have they dispensed cosmetics as if they were medicines. However, we commend Physicians Formula for its prompt apology and its promise to stop running the ad.

Of course, simply stopping the ads in the future can't "unring the bell," and undo the damage that has been done. Therefore, we are asking Physician's Formula to make amends to the profession by supporting activities to repair the harm that has been done to nursing's image.

July 23, 2004 -- The Center sent an additional letter, followed up by ~150 nurses and others asking Physicians Formula to make amends to the nursing profession. While Physicians Formula did not respond to our request that they make amends, we have ended our campaign as of today so that we can focus on more topical media events. The text of the letter we sent is below.

Dear Ms. Salinas and Messrs. Pieters, Evans, Kortschak, Mannion, Roberts, Trustey, Woodsum and Avis:

Thank you for deciding to stop using the Physicians Formula "nurse" advertisement in any format that appeared in the May 2004 "Shape" magazine. Your decision shows a laudable concern for the views of nurses, many of whom objected strongly to the image of nursing presented in the ad.

Unfortunately, just ceasing use of the ad cannot undo the damage already done, or "unring the bell." In my view, the ad has imprinted a negative image of nursing on the minds of millions of people, including health care decision-makers and career seekers, at a time of critical shortage. Persons who associate nursing with cosmetics and sex are unlikely to see it as a profession worthy of being their career or of receiving significant public or private resources. They are unlikely to realize, for instance, that many thousands of nurses with doctoral-level education in nursing work on the cutting edge of health care research. Nor are they likely to realize that nurses save or improve countless lives every day through their difficult, highly-skilled work. It is imperative for global health that the media not only halt this kind of damage to the nursing image, but also start reversing the damage by helping to create a more positive image.

Moreover, as you know, many outraged nurses have vowed never to buy Physicians Formula products again. As I imagine your market data will show, there are roughly 3 million registered nurses in North America alone, all are working age adults, the vast majority are female, and many of their family members and friends are also cosmetics buyers. It is obviously in the interest of Physicians Formula to make amends to these consumers in a tangible, visible way. Indeed, even without any evident public relations problem, Johnson & Johnson recently poured $30 million into an image campaign for nursing (the Campaign for Nursing's Future) in response to the worsening global nursing crisis. There is no doubt in my mind that nurses are buying more Johnson & Johnson products as a result of it. A similar effort on behalf of Physicians Formula would show nurses that you are truly sorry for the ad and determined to make amends.

I urge you to devote at least as many resources to helping nurses improve their image as you spent on the "nurse" ad that damaged nursing's image. What can Physicians Formula do? I have a number of ideas, many of which are also posted on The Center for Nursing Advocacy's web site: For instance, Physicians Formula might undertake image-building efforts such as:

funding art that portrays nurses in an accurate light:

funding "Be a nurse for a day" programs:"

funding media training programs for nurses:

becoming a supporting member of the Center, helping us increase public understanding of the nursing profession:

funding other image campaigns, such as Nurses for a Healthier Tomorrow:

However you decide to help improve the nursing image, I urge you to consult with the Center for Nursing Advocacy and the nursing/media experts who serve on their board and advisory panel, to avoid adding to the problem. I mention this only because others have attempted to create positive image campaigns for nursing without the guidance of nursing's media experts, and some have inadvertently created products that in my view may have actually worsened nursing's image. For instance, some have emphasized the profession's "hand-holding" image at the expense of the highly-skilled, professional image that is likely to attract the necessary resources and interest today. The Center would be happy to work together with you in a way that can benefit both Physicians Formula and the nursing image.

Thank you again for promptly pulling the "nurse" advertisement. I urge you to begin working to repair nursing's image and address the crisis in nursing.

If you would rather send letters by snail mail, call or fax, here is the contact information:

Physicians Formula Inc.
Andre Pieters, President
Kathy Salinas, Consumer Relations
1055 West Eighth St.
Azusa, CA 91702-2248

Summit Partners
Managing Partners: Bruce R. Evans, Martin J. Mannion. Thomas S. Roberts, Joseph F. Trustey, Stephen G. Woodsum
222 Berkeley Street, 18th Floor
Boston, MA 02116

Voice: 617.824.1000
Fax: 617.824.1100

Summit Partners
Managing Partners: Walter G. Kortschak, Gregory M. Avis
499 Hamilton Avenue
Palo Alto, CA 94301

Voice: 650.321.1166
Fax: 650.321.1188


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