Motrin Mom Video Mishap

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008 — 12:05pm PDT
Comments 10

A few days ago the makers of pain-reliever Motrin (Johnson & Johnson) launched a commercial campaign that annoyed and outraged mothers around the world.

“That couldn’t have been written by a mother,” noted my sister, Jennifer. “The speak about how carrying your baby around is in fashion, but it’s certainly not a passing fad nor a fashion statement – you need to carry your child… and the car seat… and the stroller.”

Complaints about the ad were flooding through social networks like Twitter this weekend. Jennifer added, “some of the comments I read online said that ‘mommy bloggers’ were taking things too seriously. But, um, aren’t ‘mommies’ the target audience for this ad?”

In a demonstration of the growing power of social media, on Monday the company issued an apology and withdrew an ad that was meant to be a light-hearted look at ‘baby wearing.’ …Instead, the online video offended a large majority of moms. They not only weren’t laughing, they were making their views known in an online storm that blasted through the blogosphere and the micro-blogging website Twitter, spiking traffic and spreading bad news about the brand. [Vancouver Sun]

I was asked by the Sun for my thoughts on Motrin’s use of social media for this campaign.

“The first mistake was the content of the Motrin ad. And then they didn’t follow up and see the online reaction. It is the second biggest topic on Twitter after Christmas.” The conversations varied from vitriolic to very funny. [Vancouver Sun]

The NY Times noted that within 48 hours people were taking matters into their own hands.

By Sunday afternoon a few bloggers and tweeters had gotten the ad agency that created the ad on the phone, to find they didn’t know a lot about Twitter and didn’t seem to have a clue that there was so much anger piling up online. [NY Times]

However, Sean Moffitt with Buzz Canuck reminds us all that this was just an ad, which has actually since been retracted with an apology:

“Unlike previous social media infernos, Motrin neither lied (Sony), deceived about their identity (Wal-Mart), endangered/inconvenienced a city (Aqua Teen Hunger Force) or provided dubious insider tips (Whole Foods). It was simply an ad. As ads go, it was more intriguing than most…perhaps with the same ad executed poorly, we might have never noticed it.”

True, a lot more harm could have been done, and because of this outcry (because apparently mothers cry all the time) the ad was pulled. Case closed… or is it?

It’s an example of how quickly word travels. The ad can be launched, up on YouTube, and around the world 10 times before you take another sip of your coffee or in this case, before the end of the weekend.

Now all but the bravest marketers are going to worry about this kind of outcry and yet another layer of political correctness will creep in. [Buzz Canuck]

I don’t think this should scare people off, I just think there’s a bigger conversation out there that companies need to be a part of.

“One bright spot is that we have learned through this process – in particular, the importance of paying close attention to the conversations that are taking place online. It has also brought home the importance of taking a broader look at what we say and how it may be interpreted.” [Johnson & Johnson Blog]

Ways to fix this? Get some of those ‘mommy bloggers’ to submit ideas for an ad, or send them some Motrin and have them create their own YouTube videos about how it effectively helped them.

The simplest way for now is to sign up for a Twitter account and check things out for yourself or at least become familiar with the social media tools you are using (you don’t even need an account to check out trending topics either). Being social and having discussions is what social media is all about, as the parody video (above) suggests.

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  1. As a marketer, and a mom, I spent the weekend glued to this story. I found it absolutely fascinating. I wasn’t so much offended, but I just thought it was a bad ad. As I’ve said to others, I don’t think it was really an attempt to do social media, but more of a brand campaign gone wrong.

  2. Dory Lanenter says:

    Bottom line for Motrin Mom – maybe some bad publicity, but phenomenal brand recognition going forward.

  3. The Buzz Canuck article was right on the mark for me. I’m glad that people are engaging in a “bigger conversation” about the [positive or negative] potential online marketing, but a never-ending stream of indignant, often-vitriolic tweets left a bad taste in my mouth.
    I don’t have a baby, but if I do I’m sure I will carry it around in a pack. And you know what? It’ll probably hurt my back, and I’ll grab for a Motrin.

  4. Rob says:

    Leaving the SMM stuff aside for a moment, the question in my mind is how much traditional research was done on this campaign? I suppose not very much. Yet, the ad world existed before social media. What about some focus groups or something? It seems like they guessed at it, and got it wrong, whether they’d heard of Twitter or not.

    Besides that, I think your suggestion to bring mums into the process is the only way to go now. Give them free stuff and then ask their opinions. Find out what’s important to them and then speak to it. Maybe the way they manage the damage will ultimately give them twice the return they would have had if they’d got it right to begin with. Funny ol’ world!

  5. Jenny says:

    It’s not really as offensive as it is lame. It’s a lame attempt at reaching out to “Moms” and a lame attempt at humour. It’s neither clever nor funny. Considering that the vast majority of women breastfeed their babies these days did they even take into account that they wouldn’t be taking pain medication anyway? The implication that carrying your baby around is to look fashionable or to look ”official’ is ludicrous. And YES carrying your baby close to your body IS good for bonding not ‘supposedly’ so. It has nothing to do with being politically correct it has to do with knowing your audience.

  6. It’s odd that I honestly can’t recall ever seeing any mother or father wear their baby in a sling or whatever.
    I’ve seen the products that let someone do that.
    I’ve seen someone do that *in an advertisement* (well, maybe in *one* advertisement, and then at the very, very, end).
    I just can’t recall ever seeing anyone actually do it in real life, let alone doing it fashionably, and I walk and take transit a lot.
    Are all these irate moms in a particular demographic or geographic location or something? I didn’t hear anything about this till this morning’s paper.

  7. Will says:

    My thoughts? The ad stunk. It was not offensive. Just didn’t influence me in any way (and I am a dad who carried his baby all over the place in a backpack and a sling for a variety of reasons). It was a bunch of typography with no zing. Show me hassles, traffic, stress, and I get it.

    So the ad stunk… but maybe, just maybe, it could be barely offensive to some… and that twitter thing is really popular… and we (thinks the ad company) could incite a Mommy Blogger revolution (actually they didn’t have a name for it but knew one would come up when this anti-campaign campaign took on a life of its own). So they launch it and then launch the anti-campaign.

    Seriously. Would you have seen this at all, or heard about it, if it hadn’t gone viral? Not the ad, but the anti-campaign which could be the campaign itself? If so, then this is the greatest marketing piece since they took away the whopper.

  8. Amber says:

    I’m with a lot of others, Motrin has gotten far more exposure from this than they would otherwise. Like they say – no publicity is bad publicity.

    I’m not on Twitter, but I’m a member of a local babywearing group. So, yes, we’re totally out there. Even here in the suburbs you see moms everywhere with Baby Bjorns and Snugglis. And the concern that moms I know voiced was that if it hurts to wear your baby you’re doing it wrong. But is it a big deal that Motrin doesn’t understand that? I don’t think so. I can’t imagine anyone would look to them for parenting advice.

  9. Don says:

    God help anyone who gets on the wrong side of web 2.0! The hysteria knows no bounds and the truth is seldom revealed.

  10. Marc Monseau says:

    Interesting. And I underscore what Kathy said in her post on JNJBTW — paying close attention to all this is key.

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