Motrin's weekend headache ~ Brand Mix

Monday, November 17, 2008

Motrin's weekend headache

In a powerful demonstration of how social media can whip up a firestorm of discontent in a matter of hours, Johnson & Johnson was caught off guard this weekend when Twittering mothers took offense at a new ad that was featured on the Motrin website.

As this article in Forbes relates, this new ad "tried to appeal to moms with an attempt at a chatty copy about using Motrin to treat sore muscles that result from a baby carrier" but target audience moms on Twitter were offended and unleashed a flood of scathing comments over the weekend. Eventually, but not before the damage was done, J&J shut down the Motrin website and sent out an email apologizing for the unintended offense.

One can argue about the merits of the ad but what's clear is that companies can't afford to take the weekend off anymore. Social media is 24/7 and, as BL Ochman points out (here), the blogging and social media community know that the weekend is the best time to cause trouble for corporations because they are not paying attention to what's going on then.

Another important lesson from this incident is to design your website so that it can be easily updated. As David Armano points out, J&J couldn't remove the ad from its website once it had decided that's what it wanted to do and its only option was to close the whole site down. A differently-designed website that allowed for rapid updates would have helped.

As to what J&J should do now, it looks like it has started down the right track with its apology and crises like this can be sometimes be turned into opportunities. There's now a large community of moms on Twitter, for example, who are interested in Motrin. Engaging with this community and asking for their ideas could turn a bad weekend into a new beginning.

Here's a link to a summary of the Twitter posts.


Jeffry Pilcher said...

Thank you for one of the more thoughtful and calm reactions to this situation. It seems like the blogosphere and Twitterati are united in their mad craze to crucify J&J/Motrin. "Cool heads be damned! Grab your pitchfork!"

Denise Lee Yohn said...

i have a feeling the question i'm about to ask is going to piss some people off, but i am genuinely seeking to understand, so please understand i'm not trying to be offensive.

ok, here's the question -- why did this commercial set off such a firestorm of a response? please note i'm not asking why the commercial was offensive -- from reading people's comments, i think i know that answer -- what i want to understand is why there was such a high-visibility, forceful, visceral response?

i can't imagine that this ad was so much more offensive than others that we've seen, right? so is it something about the particular target that was offended? meaning, is the subject matter (pain related to caring for a baby) a cultural hot button? or is there something inherent in offending young moms that would spark such a response? or is the response a demonstration (coordinated or not) of the power of social media within this target group? or ???

any thoughts? i want to get to the bottom of this because i think therein lies the takeaway point for other marketers -- so i'd really like to learn by hearing different perspectives.

Martin Bishop said...


I think "firestorm" is a good word. There's a similarity between this Motrin ad and the fire in Santa Barbara that destroyed so many homes and which was accidentally started by a group of students who didn't fully extinguish their bonfire ( It took the exact right combination of weather, kindling and bad luck/carelessness for that fire to burn out of control.

In the case of Motrin it was the unfortunate coincidence of dangerous subject matter (poking fun at what some mothers care deeply about), the medium (posting the ad online where it could be easily seen and shared), the lack of attention (because it happened over the weekend) and new social media (Twitter) that came together for this perfect firestorm.

All the elements for a great viral campaign but, unfortunately for J&J, the wrong message.

Anonymous said...

You may have missed one of the biggest contributing factors to this "firestorm": The fact that the target audience (mommies) is a very identifiable and active subset of the blogging community. There are mommy blogs on everything from home finance and running your own home-based business to shopping and cooking. They are a highly-networked group, too.

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