I was offline most of the day yesterday at a dog club event so missed the tweetstorm around the Motrin babywearing commercial. If you aren’t familiar with the tale, Amy Gates, Katja Presnal and Robert French have the full story.
Short version: Motrin created what it must have thought was a humourous ad targeted at babywearing moms. Except the target audience didn’t think it was so funny. In fact, it was offended, and in my opinion, rightly so. Among other things, the copy was condescending and rang completely false.
And the analysis begins. While most of the reaction I’ve seen so far understands the fundamental marketing errors, even as I am catching up on the story, Shannon McKarney points out on Twitter, there is a chorus of folks who don’t get it and class the #motrinmoms reaction, and action, as overreacting.
So I thought it would be helpful to the slower students to review some fundamental issues.
The ad was targeted at babywearing moms. Lots of babywearing moms didn’t like it. That’s a FAIL. Full stop. Doesn’t matter whether some babywearing moms didn’t mind it or non-parents thought it was funny. If you fail to connect with a significant portion of your audience, your ad has failed. Extra demerits when, as in this case, you not only fail to engage, you actively piss them off.
Much of the online commentary I’ve seen so far has been on the power of the social networks. That consumer brands should take heed of them. Or not, at their peril. True enough. I agree, but the power here is not simply the network. It’s the community. The technology — the Internet, Twitter, blogs, YouTube etc — just helped the outrage build and spread further faster.
For which McNeil should be grateful. An ad as fundamentally bad as the babywearing one would have offended 20 years ago too. It just would have taken longer for the boycott to spread, and for the company to react, during which time sales might have really suffered. At least here, they can begin damage control sooner rather than later.
The power of the parent-blogging community makes crystal clear the consumer power of moms. The technology simply gives us new tools and new ways to wield it. We don’t just vote with our pocketbooks. We use our voices too.
Some social media consultants probably will use this example as “further proof” that bloggers are “dangerous” and brands must hire them to navigate the dangerous waters. While I agree that it wouldn’t hurt the big brands to get a little expert help (I’m available), especially if they plan to do proactive outreach, it shouldn’t be out of fear or worry that bloggers will attack. That only tends to happen when brands don’t do their homework.
Make sure there’s water in the pool before you jump.
In this case, of course, McNeil wasn’t reaching out to bloggers. And that’s the second important part of the lesson. Why not?
It’s not a big secret that the mom-blogging community is large, active and increasingly powerful. Mainstream media has written stories about it. Johnson’s, another unit of corporate parent J&J, had a much publicized mom blogger event last spring. There are bloggers with babywearing in the blog title so it’s not like it would be really hard to find a few 🙂
It’s always a good idea to put your listening ears on and apply a little common sense. The team behind this ad clearly didn’t do either, or it would have known that babywearing is an issue about which many moms are very very passionate. The ad’s content and tone were quite simply wrong. FAIL.
Why didn’t it ask a few babywearing moms to weigh in on the ad? Or maybe even be in it? I can think of quite a few reasons why moms might want to take a painkiller, and real voices would have rung so much truer than the chipper voiceover in the ad.
It might not have been as funny… but then again, it wasn’t really funny anyway, was it?
Now, McNeil and the Motrin team have an opportunity to turn this around. I hope they take it.