The #motrinmoms lesson

by Susan Getgood on November 17, 2008 · 9 comments

in Blogging

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.

Tweetstorm. Blogstorm. Motrin apologizes and takes video down.

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.

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1 zchamu November 17, 2008 at 10:58 am

Thanks for the shout-out 🙂 I was looking forward to seeing what you were going to say on this. Their failure to listen was really the primary flaw here; the same thing you and countless others have been telling brands for years now.

2 Jen Zingsheim November 17, 2008 at 2:00 pm

I’m going to respectfully (very respectfully) disagree on a few points here…

One, the point of lots of babywearing moms didn’t like it. Lots of them, or just lots of them on social networks? Since Motrin has been through this before (if I recall correctly there was a fuss when they actually started the mom-targeting–something about it being sexist to imply only women got headaches, even though women *do* get far more than men), I’d be very surprised if they hadn’t run it by some. That the social media subset didn’t think it was funny is different. I don’t know, just wanted to point out that there could be a disparity there.

I think that there is a real danger every time we see one of these “twitstorms” (rhymes with…) that social media is seen as hot-headed, humorless, and a little irrational. Example: the tweet that you have screen-captured that depicts anyone who sticks up for Motrin as “anti-mom hate.” That’s just flat-out unfair, and smacks of “you can have any opinion you want, as long as it’s in agreement with mine.”

“Large, active, and increasingly powerful.” With great power comes great responsibility. Reacting with such disdain on the weekend (hey, maybe those “listening” at Motrin were spending time with *their* families) is not demonstrating that Mom bloggers understand the power that they yield–they are out to punish, not educate.

I’m not a mom, but I am a Godmother to two, and “faux-Aunt” to many. Carrying a child can cause back pain, and those slings are just not made for everyone. So they have connected with me.

I’m buying a big bottle of Motrin this afternoon.


3 Susan Getgood November 17, 2008 at 2:44 pm

Jen —

Many of tweets I saw — many of the same ones Shannon saw — were anti-mom. Some bordered on name-calling. That’s not right. I’m not going to repeat them here but I’d be happy to send you some. As you say, respectfully disagree and acknowledge a person’s right to express an opinion. Name calling? Not so good.

Babywearing is a pretty passionate topic for many parents. They consider it as important a parenting decision as schooling and discipline. I’m pretty certain that the non-tweeting babywearing community would be just as irritated as the Tweeters. It would just take longer. In this respect Motrin has actually lucked out because it can find out it if that is the case before it makes a potentially bigger mistake.

It’s not my reaction, or perhaps yours, but it is theirs, and they have every right to speak out if they feel a personal lifestyle decision is being mocked.

McNeil/Motrin thought the ad was edgy and funny. It doesn’t come across that way to many of the people it was purportedly aimed at. That’s a fail.

Now, perhaps you think the folks at McNeil apologized to avoid a bigger shitstorm. I’d prefer to think that they realized they might have missed the mark.

Re: the weekend. If you are going to launch something over the weekend, you’d best be prepared to handle the response. Want to wait until you are at work to handle things? Do it Monday. No pass from me on that.

I can’t comment on the individual motivations of the people who reacted over the weekend. What I do believe is that McNeil/Motrin could have done a better job if it had delved a bit deeper, done a bit more listening, and yes, paid more attention to mom bloggers.

Hopefully it will take the opportunity.

4 Danielle Reid November 17, 2008 at 6:32 pm

The point is, if you ARE a babywearing mom, the ad will likely come across as snarky and condescending. Jen, you admit you are not a mom, so you are not yet in that position. You can do a lot more damage to your back, btw, lugging around the carseat or even holding the baby in your arms. If you have the right sling/carrier and are using it right, there should be no pain…and I’m a mama with a bad back and large chest.

Motrin did NOT do their homework. They didn’t research babywearing at all from what I can tell, and what parents were involved with the ad must have either used a bad carrier or never wore their baby at all to come up with it. So, rightfully, the moms it was supposedly aimed at made sure Motrin knew that it had not only missed the mark but had alienated the very group they hoped to reel in.

As for the timing, that was Motrin’s fault. In all honesty? Kudos to the moms who jumped on this right away, and Motrin should be GRATEFUL they did. This could have gotten far worse.

I’ve been wearing my baby since she was born. I’ve tried a lot of carriers, some DID hurt. I kept trying til I found ones that worked. Now, not every mom might do this, but there are ways to phrase things that are less offensive. For example, something along the lines of “Studies have shown how good babywearing is, both for baby development and for bonding. As more and more moms are starting to wear their babies, Motrin wants you to know we understand. Doing the best thing for your baby is your first concern. For any aches and pains that might go along with it, we’re here.” Whatever, I’m not a copywriter, but you get the point.

5 Her Bad Mother November 17, 2008 at 11:02 pm

“The ad was targeted at babywearing moms. Lots of babywearing moms didn’t like it. That’s a FAIL. Full stop.”

EXACTLY. *applauds*

Her Bad Mother´s last blog post..Motrin Versus The Moms: When Painkillers Are Attacked, Everybody Loses

6 CC November 18, 2008 at 9:56 am

Yours is the first piece on this I’ve read that gets to the point that Motrin should actually be thankful for this immediate reaction. Ad campaigns that missed the mark as badly as that one did would have been just as offensive to the consumers they were trying to reach without the immediate fierce social media backlash. The brand would simply have been unaware of how badly the campaign is failing, and therefore unable to fix it.

I sincerely hope nobody lost their job over this. It was just an ad, after all.

Although how it ever saw the light of day is beyond me. I’m not sure what exactly what it was going for, but here’s what it said to me: “Moms are daft creatures who do painful things so they can follow the latest fad even though there is actually no benefit besides looking like a cool mom. And if you aren’t babywearing, you need to get with the program so you can look cool too.” Holding an older baby without the assistance of a wrap or sling, and hauling a little baby around in those car seats – now that’s painful! I don’t remember experiencing anything more than slight tension when I wore my kids – and that meant I needed to adjust my carrier. Not pop pills.

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