20 November 2008

Motrin's Mommy Headache

Last week over a span of a mere 48 hours we were able to see a very mobile and responsive mommy audience use the internet to bring down an online and print ad campaign for Motrin ibuprofen tablets (aka pain relief from the ridiculous headache finals week is giving us!) that apparently some mothers felt was offensive and picked on them for carrying their babies around town in a sling as though it were "fashionable." The biggest outrage stemmed from a commercial that was broadcast online via the company's website (and has been endlessly replicated on YouTube. Lisa Belkin of the New York Times compiles their arguments neatly in her blog:

Online Moms did not respond to the ad by racing out for Motrin. They were offended by the suggestion that they carry their babies to be “fashionable”. They were outraged at the idea that they look “crazy”. They vehemently disagreed with the phrasing that “in theory” carrying your baby around is a good idea.

Ok, so I'm not a mother, but I think if I were, I'd have a headache from rolling my eyes over and over at this ridiculousness. I've watched the commercial and sure I agree it comes across a little snarky, but in the end, it's saying, "Hey, moms! Let us help you out with that back pain!" Still, instead of debating the silliness of this argument, let's have a look at how the mommy audience mobilized online to get Motrin to suspend this campaign.

The heaviest road traveled on the digital superhighway? Twitter! The mommies had a HUMONGOUS impact through micro-blogging and tossing Motrin's name through the virtual dirt. You can skim through the tweet history of the frenzy here.

Many others took to their blogs and some even came up with anti-ads, spoofs and response videos that go on and on and on. Moms online were coming out of the woodwork calling for boycotts of Motrin -- and remember, this was all within a window of 48 hours!

So Motrin responded by pulling the ads and putting an apology right on its home page.

What's the big lesson learned?? This whole debacle has set the stage for all companies to be much more careful with and attentive to online audiences. Unfortunately for Motrin, it had to serve as the poster child for making an advertising mistake and suffering a blow to its reputation from online tools that quickly turned into stinging weapons.

Gene Grabowski sums up the whole issue quite well:
We now have indisputable proof that online marketing, YouTube and Twitter and all that it encompasses is meaningful and has arrived. We are seeing real consequences to a mistake. If [social networks] didn't matter, you wouldn't see this type of reaction from J&J or consumers. -----AdvertisingAge article
The WSJ's health blog even got in on the action pointing out that of all the pharmaceutical companies, Johnson & Johnson has been the most adventurous in reaching out to its audiences online. Most of their other online applications have been very successful and brought a new avenue towards awareness to consumers. I only hope that this fine mess doesn't discourage J&J or anyone else from using the online channel to reach out to people. It's certainly clear everyone has learned a big lesson from the school of hard knocks.

P.S. Back to the original commercial... doesn't the female voice-over sound like she took lessons from John Stossel's "Give Me a Break" segments on 20/20??? I'm just sayin'.....!!!!

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