Social Media on Main Street

We all recall the “Motrin Moms” flap, in which an advertisement for the painkiller spoke to the aches that accompany the “fashion” of “wearing” your baby in a body-hugging sling.  A righteous flare-up among heavily-networked online moms motivated Motrin execs to scurry in retreat from its campaign.  Everybody involved in Social Media Marketing weighed in, including Yours Truly.

Did you see the actual ad, or did you just read the write-ups?  Here it is again:

I’ll grant you that it’s a bit smarmier-than-thou, but I never thought the ad was purposefully disrespectful.  And apparently, once you get past the Social Media crowd, that’s the way “average consumers” feel, as well.  This suggestion comes from a Lightspeed Research survey (as covered in AdAge last week):

“(Almost) 90% of women had never seen the ad. Once they saw it, about 45% liked the video, 41% had no feelings about it, and 15% didn’t like it. Even fewer, 8%, said it negatively affected their feelings of the brand, compared with the 32% who said it made them like the brand more.”

Imagine you’re a Fortune 500 marketing executive.  You watched that Motrin Moms debacle with a twinge of fear.  You’ve been understandably skittish about offending the online consumerati.

Then, you see this Lightspeed study.

Do you conclude that it is actually “safe” to wave off the concerns of Social Media zealots? — Everything’s game?  Ignore the wingnuts?

Do you continue to “live in fear?” — Ignoring online channels in favor of traditional campaigns?

Do you look for a middle ground? — A way to gain insights from Social Media advocates that might create more effective and acceptable content?

You’re in charge of a multimillion dollar budget and in this harsh economy your decisions are being heavily scrutinized.

What course do you take?

Posted on: April 6, 2009 at 9:25 am By Todd Defren
27 Responses to “Social Media on Main Street”


  • steveyb says:

    Cyber moms are powerful both as consumers and as advocates look at MADD

  • Alanna says:

    Did it occur to anyone that this backlash from cyber moms was probably a total pr prank orchestrated by Motrin’s pr firm?!! Based on these stats it seems so…

  • Walter Gillis says:

    Problem number one with the whole Motrin Mom’s Ad is that the concept itself was poor. Motrin has just accused a significant portion of its target audience of using their baby as a fashion accessory. You just did the advertising equivalent of slapping your target audience in the face! I assume Morin was going for a cynical, worldly take on parenting (aiming for the tech savvy, highly educated set I’d imagine), but here’s the thing: Moms, especially NEW Moms, tend not to be cynical about THEIR babies and THEIR parenting skills.

    Now, in marketing, you tend to get handed a whole lot of lemons. So you best learn how to make lemonade. Motrin pissed off its target audience. You got a whole bunch of people in an uproar. Use it!

    Motrin just received a lot of free advertising thanks to the controversy. The Lightspeed survey found that the less hardcore crowd liked your ad. Use the controversy’s momentum and the Lightspeed data to start a campaign aimed at the (presumably) larger moderate audience that has a favorable impression to you.

    As for the hard-core audience that is NOT happy with you? It’s a great time to gather a bunch of employees and go to EVERY blog and site you can find that reacted negatively to your ad and talk with them. Say you are sorry; tell them what you meant to say. Tell them you admire them and wanted to say, “We understand your pain”. Tell them the truth. Be open, be honest. You’ll sway some. Some will still hate you. But most visitors who read your posts will be impressed that a “big” company is acting human and admire you for doing the right thing.

  • I think an important point to consider is that we don’t know what would have happened had Motrin NOT made an immediate and decisive retreat.

    A stand-off between angry online moms and big bad pharma co might have made an appealing quickie spot on mainstream media. I don’t doubt that many others would have joined the protest had Motrin decided to ignore these concerns.

    No one knows if the complaints would have died out or gained steam, but certainly Motrin’s immediate retraction and apology discouraged further momentum.

    The motrin ad didn’t damage the company’s reputation, but the motrin moms could have.

  • We discussed this on the Roundtable Friday…that Lightspeed research was certainly interesting. I know from the time this flap happened my gut told me that it was a small group of vocal people who didn’t necessarily represent the brand’s target consumer.

    I think that Ted has the right nugget of information–if people online start complaining, engage them but don’t necessarily cave in to their demands.

    Question is, do brands have the stomach to do that?

    And, another lesson here: brands will go back and check after doing something like pulling an ad to see what the research says. Groups like the upset Motrin Moms need to realize that they may in effect be marginalizing themselves by overreacting. Cooler heads prevail.

  • Ted Shelton says:

    The problem with the Motrin Moms debacle is that Motrin learned the wrong lesson. And now we are debating the wrong lesson.

    Wrong Lesson: A bunch of people complain about your ad/tv show/product packaging (whatever!) and you you should take the knee jerk reaction of pulling said thing

    Wrong Debate: Once we learn that this bunch of people is a minority (ultra left wing, ultra right wing, crazy twitter users…) then we should feel stupid about listening to them and should we listen in the future?

    Right Lesson: When an active group of people start talking about your product or ad or whatever — you should really engage with them, understand their concerns, speak from your own position and explain your position and only change your mind about what you do if you are convinced by the logic — also reach out to others to get broader views during this process — certainly do NOT simply hide.

    Right Debate – see lesson.

  • Andrewk says:

    I just want to say that as a fledgling entrepreneur and pr enthusiast in west texas I enjoy reading your articles as soon as they come out! Thanks for you insight.

    As for the motrin moms question: the answer is do your homework/research and be creative. The market will decide what works and what doesn’t.

    P.S. I happen to have gone to high school with an employee of yours named Travis Coggin. Great guy. He was the one who turned me onto your blog!

  • The Motrin Mom lessons for me:
    – Make sure you test your messages (“official mom” and “baby-wearing as fashion” rankled some moms. Social media gives you great almost-instant access to vocal members of your target market. Why wouldn’t you “check in”?)
    – Be prepared to pivot (was it really necessary to completely pull the ads? Probably not. Change based on feedback might have worked pretty well.)
    – A vocal few online CAN outweigh the opinions of the majority.

  • I think if anything…this should prove that a small percentage of the consumer populace is on social media still and it hasn’t quite reached the mainstream. You do have to tread carefully however and at least run it by a few mommy bloggers. Their voice and power should not be underestimated (as demonstrated here).

    Should this stop you from doing multi-million dollar campaigns? Heck no. If anything this prepared Motrin to be ready to have more channels open for communication with consumers. I bet they learned a valuable lesson. People in social media are quick to forgive if you admit your mistake and correct yourself. Just be up front with everything.

  • katie moffat says:

    But for me the issue with the Motrin moms ad remains – they tried to target the ‘mommy’ community and quite clearly failed to do their research. The Lightspeed research may look at the ‘average consumer’ but what those figures don’t illustrate is that moms that are active online are by and large very good at getting themselves heard. They blog, they tweet and they know how to generate debate. And google has a long memory so as a marketer you have to understand that while the people who weighed in and had a pop at Motrin might not be ‘average’ they are very vocal and therefore you ignore them at your peril.

    As for what to do, it stays the same, you make sure your research is good, that you understand your target market, and you appreciate that you can’t always control people’s reactions.

  • Perry Hewitt says:

    I don’t know that I’d ever want to ignore the wingnuts — I’m a proud wingnut myself — but I might want a better way to understand if and how the needle is being moved in the mainstream versus the Twitterati.

    We were looking at two sets of conversations around recent ad campaigns: one focused on printing and another on a beer brand. In each case we focused more on “did this change consumers’ perception?” and less on “how does viewing this ad make people feel?”. There’s room for both, but IMHO marketing effectiveness measurement is closer to the former.

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