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.
  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.

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


About the author

Allyson has been named one of "Top Tech Titans" by the Washingtonian, one of the Most Influential Women In Tech by Fast Company and one of the top 30 women entrepreneurs to follow on Twitter by Forbes for her leadership role in technology and social media. As Founding Partner of Rad Campaign she leads the firm’s client and online strategic services. For over a decade Allyson has helped non-profit organizations and political campaigns create dynamic and award-winning websites and online marketing and recruitment campaigns