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.
Thoughts for Thanksgiving:
Adopt an HR Professional in Transition
Today’s guest blog from Friend of BRANDEMiX, Marylou Ponzi Kay, Director of Human Resources at Benetton USA.
I’m an HR professional who recently landed after a long search. And while I used my time well, consulting, teaching, it feels good to be back on the ‘inside’.
So I would like to encourage all my employed colleagues out there to ‘adopt an HR Professional in Transition’. It’s so important to have that personal engagement with a person. Obviously we’re busy, we don’t have time to do the same thing for everyone, but if we could just concentrate on one or two people like a project, check in with them, etc. It’s so doable! It’s our way of saying thank you God for our own good fortune. For that person, it can really make a difference. I know people who were like that for me. It’s an amazing thing to receive unsolicited kindness, it suddenly changes the way you think about everything, humanizes the cold cruel world out there.
Networking is key to success, job search and all kinds of things, we hear this all the time, but how can we personalize this in a way that helps others.
You’d be surprised at how easy it is to secure entree into a company for someone else, not yourself. The other result is that the people who see you doing this for others, just might think of you in a whole different way. So it’s a kind of ‘pay it forward’, and it can mean so much for that person who’s looking to find a home.
It’s easy right now to think of how bad things are out there, let’s try to think about our good fortune and help those who have not been as lucky.
Regulars to BRANDEblog know that I have had a love hate relationship with Yahoo since the days I registered BRANDEMiX.com (love) to the time when they lost our website and all the files on our ftp site. (big hate.)
But in California at the leadership conference, when I had a great convo with Carole Mahoney, I was feeling the love again. I might be the only one.
Back in September, Yahoo launched “Start Wearing Purple” campaign.
The campaign, centered around the web portal Start Wearing Purple, includes features like “Purple Picks” – a daily series of links to things which the Yahoo team has deemed Purple-worthy. There’s also a special Flickr Account celebrating all things purple. And over at Purple Pranks, you can watch a few bizarre setups led by Improv Everywhere’s Charlie Todd. Highlights include an elevator full of people singing a song about their favorite color whenever a stranger walks in.
Two months into the launch, the campaign seems to have failed. Comments around the net are cynical, sarcastic and disparaging:
Perhaps the real target of the campaign is Yahoo’s own employees. Morale is in the dumpster at its Sunnyvale headquarters. “Bleeding purple,” Yahoo’s longtime catchphrase for displaying loyalty to the company, has come to refer to the endless exodus of employees. Wearing purple may boost the mood of longtime Yahoos. But it will hurt recruiting for those outside the cult. What adult wants to work at the company which still hasn’t figured out what it wants to be when it grows up?
Thanks to Friend of BRANDEMiX Bruce of The Dorskind Group for this one:Nov 6th 2008:The Economist print edition. Illustration by David Simonds.
A tale of two airlines and their Facebook fiascos
AS WELL as embracing blogs, firms have been exploiting social networks such as Facebook and MySpace to get their messages to a broader audience. But although they have the potential to be useful marketing tools, such networks can also be a source of damaging publicity, as British Airways (BA) and Virgin Atlantic have discovered to their cost.
On October 31st Virgin fired 13 of its cabin crew who had posted derogatory comments about its safety standards and some of its passengers on a Facebook forum. Among other things, crew members joked that some Virgin planes were infested with cockroaches and described customers as “chavs”, a disparaging British term for people with flashy bad taste. On November 3rd BA began investigating the behaviour of several employees who had described some passengers as “smelly” and “annoying” in Facebook postings.
Some airline customers may not be fragrant paragons of exquisite taste, but attacking them online is a public-relations (PR) disaster that raises the question of whether the two firms have done enough to educate staff about acceptable use of the internet. BA says employees sign a policy that forbids them from posting information about the firm online without specific authorisation. But it clearly needs to do more to reinforce that message. Virgin points out that it has several internal channels through which staff can vent frustrations. But if these were effective, why would employees feel the need to moan on Facebook?
Communications specialists say the rise of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter make it all the more important to reiterate online guidelines frequently. “Anything you now say online is amplified by these services,” warns Aedhmar Hynes, the boss of Text 100, a PR firm.
Another lesson is that managers need to monitor online activity closely to ensure that rules are respected. Virgin discovered its employees’ posts only when enraged passengers complained. A spokesman for BA says it learnt about its Facebook problem from a press report. Phil Gomes of Edelman, another PR firm, urges companies to frequent what he calls “online watering holes” where people exchange gossip and views. Prevention is undoubtedly better than cure, but firms that spot problems early could end up with less egg on their faces.
One more example of how talking to your employees has moved from the water cooler to the world.
BTW- You can follow jordioni on Twitter but I’m not promising you a Tale of Two Cities.
They said I couldn’t concentrate.
Funny joke maybe, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there more than 2,000 layoff actions in September with 236,000 employees involved. And October didn’t seem to offer any consolation. From American Express, Disney, Goldman Sachs and Yahoo, corporate layoffs were in the news every day.
According to the TechCrunch Layoff Tracker, more than 40,000 tech workers were laid off for the month.
I’m thinking about layoffs because I went to a Crain’s breakfast meeting on Thursday, entitled Managing Talent In A Turbulent Economy. I guess I was hoping to hear how companies keep their current employees committed and upbeat through the change. Unfortunately, the keynote speaker Kevin Ryan, the founder and former CEO of global Internet advertising company DoubleClick who was supposed to talk about how you manage talent through the ups and downs of various economic cycles, did nothing but offer advice on how to fire employees.
One bright spot of the morning- Renee Russell, the executive director for global talent management at Avon Products. She had to work through a period when Avon completely changed its business model and turned the company upside down.
Renee was articulate, experienced and poised as she offered advice on how to keep employees engaged while they took on more work with no increased financial compensation. “Think of every new opportunity as a way to gain new skills that will make you more marketable to an employer.”
Today’s crisis will not diminish the demographic data that supports fierce competition for talented people to lead companies through these changes. While all the headlines may be focused on the impact of the credit crunch on the ability of companies to expand, the talent crunch could be just as serious.
A good communication strategy during these difficult times can help avoid Suvivor’s Syndrome and keep employees connected, safe and more productive through the storm of 2008.
And by the way, while I didn’t really work in an Orange Juice factory, I did work in a Popcorn Factory. I spent my time dreaming of a butter future.