Fast Company

Motrin's Pain: Viral Video Disaster

Hell hath no fury... Motrin's new viral video campaign - implying that moms who carry their babies around in slings do so to be fashionable - has provoked a veritable storm of criticism.

The economy is in a slump. Companies are worried how they’re going to meet next quarter’s profits. So they hire an ad agency to come up with a viral video campaign that’s going to be so fresh and inspiring that it will boost sales. That’s what McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the largest consumer company within Johnson & Johnson, which is responsible for the Motrin brand, were banking on when they released their new video campaign and Motrin Moma-Alogue.

The results: a slick online video narrated by a snarky young woman saying babywearing on a sling, the shwing, the pouch, whatever, is fashionable and “supposedly it’s a real bonding experience” but moms that wear their babies “cry more.” But don’t worry mommies of the world “Motrin feels your pain.” They are here to help.

The viral video worked in the sense that it went viral but not in the way the marketers of Motrin were hoping for. Just hours after the campaign launched moms began blogging, tweeting and posting Facebook updates about how offensive the new Motrin campaign is to mothers. Women were so angered by the video that it became one of the most popular subjects tweeted about this weekend on Twitter. Talk about a PR disaster. Over 100 blogs featured headlines such as “Motrin Makes Moms Mad” to “Motrin Giving Moms a Headache”.

Tweets on Twitter are flying across the screen by the second using the hashtag #motrinmoms. Tweets read “RU FREAKING KIDDING ME? So many things wrong with that I don’t know where to start,” said @thecouponcoup. “I am shocked by that Motrin ad. Count me in on the boycott,” said @blondeblogger. “They totally do not get us at all,” said @DealSeekingMom.

Katja Presnal, a former fashion model turned mompreneur was so offended by the Motrin ad that she created a video capturing people’s Twitter responses to the Motrin video campaign juxtaposed with photos of mothers and their babies. In just a few hours the video has received over 3200 views.

"I felt the ad was offensive for mothers who use slings, making it sound like moms who wear slings do it only because it's the fashionable thing to do," said Presnal. "It's a huge mistake that they didn't test the ads with their target market before putting it out."

Presnal raises an excellent point. Did the ad agency who created this viral video campaign for their client Motrin bother to consult with real moms and test this ad concept? Did any PR or marketing executives who happen to be mothers and work for McNeil Consumer Healthcare bother to look at this ad? It’s hard to imagine how this ad made it passed the storyboards. Nonetheless there are always lessons to be learned from PR disasters. Public relations expert Peter Shankman recommends the following:

  1. Hire someone who is part of your target market.
  2. Don’t believe EVERYTHING YOUR AGENCY SAYS.
  3. Screw focus groups, use Twitter.
  4. Suck it up, apologize, and move on.

I will add to Shankman’s sound advice.

Never, ever underestimate the power of mommy bloggers to organize around a consumer campaign that completely insults their intelligence.

Update: As of late last night, Motrin shut down its site. Kathy Widmer, VP of Marketing at McNeil sent a note to bloggers issuing an apology. However, there is still a large print campaign associated with the video that will be hitting the streets near you.

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Allyson Kapin is the Founding Partner of Rad Campaign and the Founder of Women Who Tech.

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4 Comments

  • Allyson Kapin

    Agreed Linda. Hopefully they will hire an Online Social Networking expert who can mentor Senior Management about the Web 2.0 world. BTW - I will be giving a great presentation on this very topic to a group of Fortune 100 businesswomen later this week. Perhaps I will blog about it next week.

  • Linda Sherman

    I could not find Kathy Widmer on Facebook or even LinkedIn. I assume she is not on Twitter either. There were some Johnson and Johnson people at BlogHer which was a good move but I think this company has much further to go to understand social media.

  • John Taylor

    Good post, but a couple of clarifications. It appears an ad agency, Taxi-NYC, created the content for www.motrin.com, not a pr firm. The pr people for Johnson & Johnson / McNeil will have to clean up this mess.

    Kathy Widmer, their VP of marketing, has already reached out to several bloggers with an apology. (I posted a copy of her note on my blog, www.johntaylor.biz.)

    Widmer's work is still not finished. While they've pulled down motrin.com on Sunday night, they should have posted her apology in its place.

    They also have an opportunity to turn this into something good for their brand, but first they must recognize they are co-owners of the brand with their customers. Whether you like it or not, your customers have as much, if not more control than you do over your brand.

    Marketing people everyone need to learn to love that. (They also need to be joined at the hip with their PR people. I can't imagine the headache waiting for the Motrin PR person in the morning. This weekend was just the beginning.)