November 28

Motrin Screwed Up When They Pulled Their Ads

Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you probably have heard the #motrinmoms flap that started on Twitter and led to Motrin’s pulling of a nationwide ad campaign. I chose to focus my latest Ad Age post on the topic and think you might find my research interesting. I’ve reprinted the entire post below. Do me a favor, if you share a link to this on your blog or Twitter please ad #MotrinResponse so I can track it.

Over the weekend I watched as a few outspoken mommy bloggers started a firestorm via Twitter. Throughout the weekend I was seeing Tweets about a new Motrin campaign and could see a groundswell of anger rising. And then it happened on Monday. Motrin pulled the campaign, issued an apology and the social media mavens declared victory. And most folks agree that Motrin did the right thing. 

But honestly, I disagree. In fact, I think Motrin blew a huge opportunity. 

A couple of items to create context. 

•    Based on data from Radian6 and our own manual review of hashtag #motrinmoms, “motrin campaign” shows about 900 tweets between Friday and Monday and #motrinmoms hashtag had about 1,500 tweets. A big number. But a lot of them were from the same folks having a conversation via Twitter. All told, just over 1,000 Twitter handles are found on #motrinmoms with the vast majority of the tweets considered “neutral” in tone. Heck, the positive toned tweets outnumbered the truly negative tone tweets. Though, for the record, the positive ones seems to be associated with males.  So lots of noise, but few noisemakers.

•    I was able to find about 300-400 blog posts on the subject (depending on keyword string) from November 14-16 and 3,000 posts if you track through to 11/18/08. Again, lots of noise. But the vast majority of it was AFTER the issue surfaced and bloggers (including males) around the world simply commented on a hot topic.

•    And finally, my own quick poll of 150 heavy Internet using moms showed that 145 of them are unaware of the campaign or backlash. And of the 5 that were, not one was planning to boycott or complain to Motrin. 

Which begs the question, if the uproar was a vocal minority (as the data above would seem to support) then why did the ad have to be pulled so quickly? Why did Motrin feel the need to move so swiftly? 

Why? Because they and likely their agency, Taxi, simply reacted instead of responding.  And in doing so, they missed a huge opportunity to exploit the real power of social media – dialog. 

I would have counseled Motrin to do two things. 

First, reach out to the offended and apologize via the channel that person used to complain. Acknowledge that the ad obviously is flawed as it certainly offended some but in the spirit of learning from mistakes, Motrin wants to invite these moms to help Motrin create better ads in the future by participating in a dialog at But I wouldn’t have yanked the campaign right away because if moms can’t see it, they can’t comment on it and J&J loses a learning opportunity. There was time to “wait and see” without risking retail backlash.

If a reporter wants to interview Kathy Widmer, VP Marketing for J&J, let them.  But make sure Kathy gets her “we understand the ad has challenges, we’ve apologized and we’re inviting moms to help us understand how to fix it” point in the final story. 

The result:

By asking the bloggers, Twitterati and everyone else for that matter to join the conversation at, Motrin gets to learn from its “mistake.” As it is now, all Motrin knows is that they offended some folks. But they don’t know if they offended all moms or just a vocal minority. Additionally, they know they did something wrong, but if you read the tweets and blog posts/comments, no one really offers Motrin any advice about how they should target moms. That insight is worth its weight in gold. 

Had Motrin sought to continue the dialog versus shutting it down, they could have fielded what amounts to a huge online focus group. They could have talked directly to a market they really want to understand. And if they got really innovative, they could have tried to unite that group as a community that appreciates Motrin’s willingness to engage in two-way dialog. To be part of a community that might even agree to stick around and participate in future conversations. 

Instead of playing defense, they should have played offense. I think in the long run, they’d be more successful marketing to moms, or at least less likely to piss some of them off. 

Tonight, I found this blog post by Jennifer Lucio over at ZDNet. It points to a very recent Lexalytics analysis that supports my article above.

UPDATE November 24, 2008 – Ad Age quotes me several times in their Motrin story, “Crashing Motrin-gate” — so very, very cool.

Related Posts You May Like...

Painless Prospecting - the sales approach for people who hate traditional sales prospecting

Don't miss the next great article 

Subscribe today to get the best Painless Prospecting content delivered directly to your inbox.


advertising, social media, Twitter

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Want to chat?

Is there something we could help you with? Maybe a topic you wish we'd cover or maybe you have a specific challenge you'd like us help you with?