How Twittering Critics Brought Down 'Motrin Mom' Campaign,
Forcing J&J to Pull Ad, Issue Apology
Published: November 17, 2008
NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Johnson & Johnson did manage to offend some mothers with an online and print campaign for Motrin that implied moms carry their babies as fashion accessories. But was it a genuine groundswell that felled the effort -- or an alliance of the few, empowered by microblogging service Twitter.
The Motrin ad was an attempt to connect with moms through the common experience (and pain) of carrying a child.
Two days after a new ad push for Motrin, from the New York office of independent shop Taxi, triggered an online backlash, J&J's McNeil Consumer Healthcare unit is pulling the campaign and begging a vocal mommy-blogging nation for forgiveness.
The ad, which was featured on Motrin's website as well as several magazines, was an attempt to connect with moms through the common experience (and pain) of carrying a child. But the implication felt by some of the campaign's more vocal critics was that moms wear their babies as a fashion accessory, or because it "totally makes me look like an official mom."
"Supposedly it's a real bonding experience," the ad said, "but what about me?"
The campaign has been online since Sept. 30 and has been circulating in several magazines for weeks, but it finally caught the attention -- and ire -- of some influential bloggers Friday night before blowing up into a full-fledged cause celebre on Twitter over the weekend.
The ultimate demise of the campaign is either an example of how quickly a groundswell of opinion can be galvanized with social media, or how much power it can give a few vocal tastemakers with outsized weight over online discourse.
J&J's McNeil Consumer Healthcare unit is pulling the campaign and begging a vocal mommy-blogging nation for forgiveness.
The beginning of the end for the Motrin push probably came Friday night, when Los Angeles blogger Jessica Gottlieb said she was tipped off to the ads and started expressing her outrage over the campaign on Twitter, where she has 1,018 followers.
"I am a satirist, I get humor, I talk about my vagina," said Ms. Gottlieb, who works as a freelance writer for National Lampoon and writes for SV Moms Blog and Celsias. "I'm just insulted. I'm not an activist. I don't have an agenda, but I do have children."
On Saturday, Katja Presnal (4,221 Twitter followers), a New York blogger and proprietor of online children's clothing store Simbaco, collected "tweets" from offended moms and edited them into a nine-minute video on YouTube titled "Motrin Ad Makes Moms Mad," which had been viewed 21,000 times as of today.
The spread of 'Motrin moms'
"You don't have to have thousands of followers to start something like this," said Mr. Armano, who also blogs for AdAge.com. "Many people with small networks have just as much influence of a few people with large networks."
Whatever it was, their impact was felt by J&J last night. McNeil Consumer Healthcare took down Motrin.com, and VP-Marketing Kathy Widmer had started apologizing to bloggers via e-mail.
Amy Gates, who runs the blog Crunchy Domestic Goddess, posted a personal note from Ms. Widmer on her site yesterday. "We certainly did not mean to offend moms through our advertising. Instead, we had intended to demonstrate genuine sympathy and appreciation for all that parents do for their babies," Ms. Widmer wrote in the note.
When the Motrin site was restored today, the ad was replaced by a message from Ms. Widmer: "We have heard you."
"On behalf of McNeil Consumer Healthcare and all of us who work on the Motrin brand, please accept our sincere apology," she wrote. "We are in the process of removing this ad from all media. It will, unfortunately, take a bit of time to remove it from our magazine advertising, as it is on newsstands and in distribution."
"[It was] amazing to have that happen over 48 hours, on a weekend in the blogosphere," she said. "People are now spreading around the apology; it's such an immediate time-frame."
"We now have indisputable proof that online marketing, YouTube and Twitter and all that it encompasses is meaningful and has arrived," said Gene Grabowsk, chair of the crisis and litigation practice at Levick Strategic Communications. "We are seeing real consequences to a mistake. If [social networks] didn't matter, you wouldn't see this type of reaction from J&J or consumers."
Just a note: yes, I'm still twittering and boring even myself. My twitters are also posted to my facebook feed, boring all my friends. And, though I have followers, I can't imagine why. Maybe I should start ranting about advertising.