Motrin gives itself a migraine no painkiller can cure

When I opened my laptop this morning (Sunday), #motrinmoms was number one on Twitter Search. My curiosity piqued, I had to find out what this was all about. I discovered:

Last night, Motrin put this video ad on its web site.

Within an hour, one mom got upset and twittered about it.

Less than an hour after that, the hashtag #motrinmoms hit number one on on Twitter Search.

And the floodgates opened. #motrinmoms is still number one, 24 hours later. (While writing this post, another 35 messages have been tweeted.) The total number of tweets on the subject is more than 2,000.

A mommyblogger created and posted this You Tube video and another made this one containing some of the tweets that had been flying all night.

Then the bloggers started blogging about it here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and… well, you get the idea.

Laura Fitton, aka Pistachio, wrote about it, and this fun summary was written at Enterprise Social Media.

A spoof of the ad, mocking the ad agency, appeared on YouTube.

Finally, 20 hours after the offending video went live, the VP of Marketing for MacNeil Consumer Health Care, the parent company of Motrin (itself a division of Johnson & Johnson) took its site down and issued an apology.

Yet #motrinmoms is *still* number one on Twitter Search.

As Laura Fitton said, this is going to be covered extensively in business media, as a negative case study, for a quite a while.

There are many who don’t understand what the fuss is about. I will admit that when I first read the transcript of the ad, I didn’t find it terribly offensive. But after watching the commercial, I understood the concern much more clearly. Notice that there is a “cuckoo” sound effect that occurs directly after the line “tired & crazy.” But anyone who thinks this is overblown is missing the point. The point is not whether or not you personally find the ad offensive, or think that mommy bloggers/twitterers are overreacting, the point is that the ad HAS offended a significant portion of the target audience, and that this entire mess could have been avoided if a.) the ad agency had any empathy with moms and had a mom write an ad to promote the product to begin with or b.) was monitoring the blogo/twittersphere for mentions of its name.

Takeaway: whether or not you launch ANY sort of marketing campaign (but especially if you are), monitor your brand name in the blogosphere (using Google Alerts) and the twitterverse (using Twitter Search).

Update 11/17 12:50pm: The New York Times has an article this morning, Moms and Motrin.

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12 Responses to “Motrin gives itself a migraine no painkiller can cure”

  1. Jeffry Pilcher Says:

    Re: “Finally, 20 hours after…”

    A 20-hour response time — on the weekend — is pretty damn good. What the hell were they supposed to do? Rip the spot down after the first dozen tweets from a few noisy moms?

    Precisely when should they have reacted? At the 12-hour mark? The 4-hour mark? The 1-minute mark?

    I really don’t understand what Motrin did wrong here. They apologized in less than a day.

  2. Morriss Partee Says:

    @Jeffry The internet doesn’t take a break on the weekends. If anything, there is *more* conversation on the weekends. If I were a brand with the recognition of Motrin, launching something new on the web, I would be monitoring reaction immediately (and I do mean immediately), not a day later. And if you’re not going to monitor internet reaction over the weekend, then why launch it on a Saturday night? To top it all off, Motrin would not have even known about it until probably this Monday morning, had not the online uproar reached someone who could track down and phone the VP of Marketing at Motrin.

    In these 20 short hours:
    • It became the number one tweeted subject in all of twitterdom
    • No less than three YouTube videos were created about it (one of which was viewed 2,500 times in that time)
    • Scores of blog posts were written about it
    • Thousands of tweets were tweeted about it

    And now that it’s gotten this much attention, it ain’t gonna die for quite awhile. Expect other media to dig their teeth into this story and run with it.

    Let’s see, what did Motrin do wrong here? How about a.) needlessly pissing off thousands of mommy blogger/twitterers and b.) in the process becoming a case study in why not to ignore online communication channels? How/why did this ad get published in the first place?

    So what should Motrin and their agency have done differently? a.) Not created an ad that was condescending to moms in the first place. This could have been avoided if they would have had at least one current mom on staff or at least run it by a few moms before launching the campaign. (Apparently it’s too late to pull the print ads from their first flights.) b.) It was abundantly clear that no one from the agency or Motrin was monitoring twitter or the blogosphere. If they had, there would have been *some* sort of comment from them. I agree that if the ad had annoyed one mom, then they shouldn’t immediately pull the ad. But this ad created an instant firestorm of reaction from thousands of moms. Nine of the moms listed on commented on this story. *Any* sort of comment from Motrin or its agency may have prevented this from becoming the hailstorm of incredulity that it became.

    So I’ll pass it back to the readers and ask, if you made a bone-headed blunder online, how long would it take you to issue an apology? More importantly, what steps would you take to insure it never happened again?

    And by the way, the Motrin web site is STILL down this fine Monday morning.

  3. Jeffry Pilcher Says:

    To summarize, you think:
    1. Motrin should have pre-tested the ad.
    2. Motrin should have had moms on the account writing the ad.
    3. Motrin should have responded immediately (not “20 hours” later)

    You’re drawing a lot of assumptions here. How do you know that Motrin didn’t test the ad? How do you know Motrin doesn’t have moms working on its account? How do you know Motrin wasn’t monitoring Twitter — just because they didn’t comment?

    I’ll withhold my opinions until/unless we learn more about how Motrin’s spot was created. I would like to know specifically what they did and didn’t do before I damn them for what I *assume* they did or didn’t do. I’m willing to let the company explain themselves before I avow to never buy their product again.

    The main problems people seem to have is (1) the spot itself, (2) the response time, and (3) the form of the response. Say what you want about the spot (personally, I think there are hundreds of ads to get more huffy about than this one), I continue to contend that an apology issued in under 24 hours is perfectly acceptable.

    A marketing VP can’t react rashly or they risk making the problem worse. He/she can’t act in a vacuum either. Calls need to be made. Discussions need to be had. The agency needs to be in the loop. The parent company needs to be consulted. J&J needs to know what’s going on. Consensus needs to be reached. The media buyers have to call their reps (again, on the weekend). And all that needs to happen before the apology can be written, edited and approved (probably by a few people).

    I wonder how many of those who are so critical of Motrin could pull all this off in less than 20 hours. Even if they could, how long would it take? If you were the VP/Marketing at an international, multi-tiered corporation, how long do you think it would take you to wrangle all these folks…on a weekend?

    Be fair. Be honest.

  4. Jeffry Pilcher Says:

    And why isn’t this being celebrated as “the power of Twitter/social media” instead of demonizing a company for how it “royally screwed up?” Instead of bashing Motrin for how many minutes it may have squandered in its response, maybe the real story is how fast people can unite around a common cause?

    Company runs ad. People complain. Company apologizes. Ad goes away. All in 20 hours. End of story. Except maybe it’s just more fun to grab a pitchfork, join the lynch mob, and keep the crucifixion of Motrin going as long as possible?

  5. Morriss Partee Says:

    @Jeffry Do you own stock in J&J? No need to get bent out of shape on this one. This is simultaneously the power of Twitter/social networking *and* how Motrin screwed up.

    To your points above:
    1.) I don’t think Motrin should have pre-tested the ad. Simply run it by a few moms. If they had, this one would have never run.

    2.) Yes, without question, Motrin’s agency (Taxi NYC) should have had some moms (more moms?) working on the account. Indeed, I don’t know how many moms were or weren’t on the account, but it’s not like there aren’t a lot of moms out there would love to work on such a project.

    3.) I know that Motrin wasn’t monitoring twitter because there is no way on earth that anyone could have possibly held their tongue for that long. You seem not to be grasping the outrage from a *lot* of moms. This isn’t an isolated mom here or there, this is thousands of moms rising up in disbelief.

    Consumers really don’t care about the structure of the organization behind it and how many phone calls and meetings it takes to change something that it put out. I mean, how many people, phone calls and meetings does it take to say, oops, we made a mistake, and we apologize for our error? I have no problem with the apology or the form it took. It’s a sincere apology from the VP of Marketing who is a mom herself. I’m simply reporting that it’s a black eye to Motrin that they let the firestorm erupt for *any* duration of time before an apology was issued.

    I don’t know why you’re coming to the defense of Motrin here, I’m just trying to present the facts of what happened.

    I will go out on a (very safe) limb and say that Motrin and its agency did not have anyone monitoring social channels, because if they had, an IMMEDIATE red flag would have gone up the INSTANT that #motrinmoms hit number one on Twitter Search. It’s not like that spot is a secret out in the woods somewhere. On a related note: I love TJ Sonderman’s Connect the Tweets blog, all about explaining trending twitter terms.

    And I will also go out on another very safe limb and say that Motrin/Taxi did not run the ad by any moms, because if they had, it would have never seen the light of day. Why would you risk alienating your target audience? Flags would have gone up. If there was any sort of testing done, then the testing agency needs to be fired for gross negligence.

  6. Morriss Partee Says:

    The New York Times article this morning, Moms and Motrin hits the nail on the head. Yes, this uproar seems to be somewhat out of proportion, but Motrin has unintentionally tapped into a powerful voice on the web. The best tweet of yesterday has to be “hell hath no fury like a mommyblogger scorned.”

  7. Jeffry Pilcher Says:

    I don’t see the situation as the egregious commission of a cardinal sin that everyone seems to be painting it as. Was it a good ad? I guess not. Did they screw up? I guess so. But they took care of it — maybe not to everyone’s total satisfaction.

    Am I a Motrin fan? J&J shareholder? Neither. Am I sympathetic to the realities of marketing in today’s world? Yes. Rather than beat the crap out of them (over and over and over), I’m willing to see the situation through their eyes.

    The Twitterati seem to think that Twitter is now a mandatory part of everyone’s marketing arsenal. They are merciless in their criticism of those who don’t agree and worship at the Twitter alter. Their passion is admirable, but their delivery has been less than gracious. It’s like the cool kids are beating up on someone for not “being ‘with it.'”

    A little more “pull” and a little less “push” would probably be more effective at getting goliaths like J&J to see the value in Twitter. No one appreciates a lesson taught by shame.

  8. terrell Says:

    Since I’m not a mom and I don’t watch television, I think the whole thing seems overblown. Ok, tons of moms got pissed off and banded together on the internet to say Motrin sucks. But, how is this really going to affect their sales? What about all those moms who aren’t on Twitter and aren’t a part of blogosphere? For some reason, I doubt they are as pissed off. And, don’t they represent a bigger part of the population than the Twitter/Bloggerati? I guess what I’m saying is…this was an ad, not a product recall. I don’t think it’s that big a deal.

    On a positive note, I do think this whole issue has given me a greater respect for Twitter, in a marketing/PR sense.

  9. Susan Epperson Says:

    Morriss!! Thanks for this fabulous discussion. I’m both a Mom and a user of Motrin…and a vp of marketing. There’s another level here that you guys may or may not know about in the motherhood/persuasion realm.

    It starts with a group that I have affectionally called the La Leche Nazis. These are the women that contend that you should ALWAYS ABSOLUTELY breastfeed your child. And, they do a great job at throwing around the guilt when you don’t. This is just the first of ZILLIONS of “shoulds” that get thrown around motherhood.

    It is hard enough trying to manage crazy mommy hormones and figure out how to take care of a baby, but then all mommies get hit with guilt for ANY reason…
    …going back to work
    …not going back to work
    …making baby food
    …not making baby food
    …sleeping with the baby
    …not sleeping with the baby
    …using cloth diapers
    …using disposable diapers
    This list is neverending and pretty irrational. Ask any new mommy about this. Each one of us has our own list. Perhaps even baby carriers are on the list. Geez….one more thing to feel guilty about.

    So, there’s a little background into the crazy modern mommy subculture. We’re dealing with guilt every minute of every day no matter our choices. So, I’m confident that Motrin really isn’t the problem here…but they’re the whipping boy. The issue has more to do with how us mommies manage our guilt and how much crap we’re willing to take. And sometimes it’s easier to give a big bad company an earful rather than an individual.

    My personal opinion? Well, it really doesn’t matter too much here because the discussion is about Twitter…not so much Motrin. Twitter really helped to stir up some controversy and do it quickly. That says a lot about our new world and what we need to be prepared for.

  10. Morriss Partee Says:

    The Polymer Studios blog has linked to this blog entry: A huge social media headache for Motrin

  11. Jessica Gottlieb Says:

    Wow the discussion here is really interesting. I found myself as the catalyst in this quick storm and I’d like to add a few quick points.

    Susan is absolutely correct in that women (mothers) do more to tear at each other than our men ever could. I’ve purposely backed out of any backlash discussion as it’s a Mommy War redux and I find it tiresome.

    One of the reasons the ad was so striking is that it landed squarely in the middle of the first ever International Babywearing Week, another reason that it missed so horribly is that it referred to our babies as things. I’m a woman who is willing to laugh at herself, I drive a station wagon, coach soccer, wear sensible shoes and it takes me 20 minutes to order a latte. It’s funny! I’m cool with that.

    My kids are off limits. So when commercials want me to vacuum in makeup I roll my eyes, and when they want me to date a cookie I’m grossed out, but when they insult my kids, they alienate me. Irrevocably.

    I hope this sheds a little light on it for you.

    Thank you all for such a respectful discussion.

  12. Look who’s talking about YOU! « World 2.0 Adventure Says:

    […] to take if your company is criticized in a blog post JOHN SOAT, Reputations at risk MORRISS PARTEE, Motrin gives itself a migraine CHRIS LOCKE et al, The Cluetrain Manifesto RYAN UNDERWOOD, Tell us what you really think LESLEY […]

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