“Motrin moms” and the perils of social media marketing

November 18, 2008

With the fallout from the so-called “Motrin moms” debacle still echoing around the Web, it seems an appropriate time to highlight, once again, the perils of social media marketing. Of course, this is not the first time that a big corporation has managed to arouse the ire of the online masses, and it sure won’t be the last. But the Motrin case is notable for the swiftness and ferocity of the response, not to mention all the angry “tweets.”

In case you missed it, a Web video ad for the painkiller Motrin was cooked up by the folks at McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a unit of Johnson & Johnson. The ad was targeted at mothers and talked about the physical pain involved with carrying an infant in a sling. Watch for yourself and see what you think:

It was apparently intended to show empathy for the young mom but the tone was a bit too flip for some. A groundswell campaign on the popular micro-blogging site Twitter took off over the weekend, with thousands joining its ranks, tweeting angrily about the Motrin campaign.

Equally swift was the company’s response, which came on Monday. J&J blanketed the front-page of Motrin.com with an apology, stating – in case anybody missed it – “We have heard you.”

“We are parents ourselves and we take feedback from moms seriously,” the apology said.

With more and more companies turning to social media to market their products, you can expect to see more stumbles from corporate giants. Web ads, blogging, social networks and all the tools afforded by the Web are still uncharted territory for many companies, and many are still struggling to understand how to use them effectively.


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There is an amazing amount being written about the Motrin Mishap. http://adage.com/digital/article?article _id=132622) Some is official reporting in traditional media and some is new media. In any case, the sheer amount of outrage by Moms who were offended by this campaign has led consumer giant Johnson and Johnson to not only pull their ad campaign but apologize to Moms for offending them. Check out (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhR-y1N6 R8Q) which is the You Tube response to the campaign. Ouch. What a PR debacle.

The first line of the Chicago Tribune’s article today is: “Offend Mommy bloggers at your own peril”. Of course, Mommy Bloggers are just a sub-set of the powerful consumer group otherwise known as Moms. Moms have always been a tough audience. By that we mean that they have a pretty acute sense of brands that understand them and those that do not and they have always been vocal about sharing their POV with their friends and family. The internet just makes it easier for them to get their “mom community” on board a whole lot faster.

Most important though is the obvious: No company can afford to offend Moms. Humor, though a huge and often effective tactic for advertising must be carefully considered before taking a lead role in a campaign; and not just by creatives in an ad agency but by real moms. Imagine how much pain Motrin could have avoided…and I mean pain! if they had run their concept by Moms who could have told them on both a strategic and empathetic level that this snarky approach would offend?

Video advertisements on the web are no different in form than television commercials. You have to put money into it to make them effective. It’s that simple. I don’t buy that companies are struggling to understand how to use them. Producers think they can make the commercial budgets smaller for a web ad, but they are wrong.

Posted by Boom Operator | Report as abusive

It’s easy to offend moms though. Just imply for one moment that they are not the Centre of the Universe and you’ll have a horde of hormonal, baby-wielding mommies telling you that you’re evil, going to hell and that you should be ashamed for ever breathing.

Like earth really needs all the new humans they’re making! Motherhood is seriously over-rated.