Saturday, December 13, 2008

Motrin “gets” PR after ad campaign misstep

A few weeks ago, Motrin pulled an ad created for it by its creative agency that had moms all around the country in an uproar.

The ad sought to address the concerns of mothers who get back pain from carrying their babies in a sling or in a device that allows them to hang in front of them, either facing forward or towards the mother, while her hands are free to work, or shop, or walk. The ad, of course, recommended Motrin for the back and neck pain that these devices can cause.

Check out the ad below, on YouTube:

Some phrases pop out in this video. The fact that moms are carrying their babies as a “fashion accessory” or that it “totally makes me look like an official mom,” for starters. Both are patronizing to women, and a bit insulting.

At least that’s how tens of thousands of mothers saw it.

Outraged at the tone and attitude of the ad, which was not only on TV, but placed in magazines and papers as well, angry moms took the case against Motrin viral.

YouTube was almost instantly flooded with videos of moms expressing contempt for the ad’s condescending tone. They used the social networking site Twitter to spread the word about the ad, flooding it with contempt for the ad, the product and the company. They also emailed and called the company, and caused an uproar in more traditional media.

The Chicago Tribune later reported that one video created by an upset mom was viewed over 12,000 times.

To be sure, there were many bloggers, Tweeters and YouTube commenters who replied that some mothers were getting too upset, and that there were some more important things to be outraged about. That, of course, didn’t get the company off the hook.

The company, knowing they had erred, acted quickly. They pulled the broadcast ad, and published an apology on their Website,

Four days later, on Nov. 20, they posted yet another apology:

So…it’s been almost 4 days since I apologized here for our Motrin advertising. What an unbelievable 4 days it’s been. Believe me when I say we’ve been taking our own headache medicine here lately!

Btw - if you’re confused by this - we removed our Motrin ad campaign from the marketplace on Sunday because we realized through your feedback that we had missed the mark and insulted many moms. We didn’t mean to…but we did. We've been able to get most of the ads out of circulation, but those in magazines will, unfortunately, be out there for a while.

We are listening to you, and we know that's the best place to start as we move ahead. More to come on that.

In the end, we have been reminded of age-old lessons that are tried and true:
When you make a mistake - own up to it, and say you’re sorry.

Learn from that mistake.

That’s all... for now.

Kathy Widmer
VP Marketing
McNeil Consumer Healthcare

And they got it just right.

The rules of public relations are just as Ms. Widmer stated: admit mistakes publicly and quickly, and learn from them.

To fail to admit a mistake - to dig in one’s heels and fail to own up to it (like a certain Illinois governor, perhaps?) or to grudgingly admit it, but fail to take corrective action, would both be failed reactions to a PR crisis like this one.

But Motrin, while angering a lot of moms out there, has also perhaps saved a lot of their business in the long run by pivoting so quickly and changing course.

That’s a good lesson for all companies.

But the lesson doesn't end there. The makers of Motrin learned:

1) Don't underestimate your customers, and don't be condescending to them.
2) "Motrin Moms" are tech-savvy.
3) These videos, Tweets (postings to Twitter) and blog postings will remain online FOREVER. So they've got a lot of work to do to overcome this episode.

Short link to this post:


Diana Pitaru said...

It's funny you should blog about this. Motrin is probably the most administrated medication within the US military is the "fix it all" drug. The military community is also very family oriented---> lots of moms. I know this refers only to a specific segment of population but it was interesting to monitor the reaction amongst the military moms: offended but still using :)
Motrin got the message across...regardless of what the message was, and you are will take a long time for the online community -at least- to forget and forgive however, the Marketing VP played by the rules.

Stephen said...

Thanks so much for the comment, Diana. I didn't know that about the "military moms." Huh. I actually think they will get beyond this, because they reacted quickly and apologized profusely.

In the end, if it's a good product that many people are comfortable with - like those military moms and others - then they will survive.

Thanks again!