Thursday, December 04, 2008

Twitter Moms Take on Motrin

It’s been fascinating to watch the unfolding of the online brouhaha over the Motrin “Mommy ad.” It featured a mom who gets aches and pains from wearing a baby sling which she uses because it “seems to be in fashion” and “supposedly, it’s a real bonding experience.” (You can still see the original ad on YouTube).

Launched on September 30, the ad seems first to have been taken up as an issue by the social media in mid-November, when “Susie” of the MagicCitySlingers blog wrote: “Dear Motrin ad lady, if you look tired and crazy, it’s because you’re using a schwing. Don’t take Motrin, take a meeting. When you learn to use a non-schwing carrier correctly, you won’t be in pain.”

Over the next few days, there were Tweets aplenty. Blogger Katja Presnal created a YouTube video featuring anti-Motrin commentary. The most active citizen journalists begin contacting mainstream media outlets about the story.

On November 17, just two days after the first negative blog commentary, Kathy Widmer, VP of Marketing for McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a division of Johnson & Johnson, apologized and announced that the company was pulling the ad.

In his recent article on “Motrin-Gate” in Ad Age, Jack Neff thinks it’s all a tempest in a teapot. He writes: “J&J might have been a tad hasty in pulling down its ad. In doing so, it bowed to a vocal flash mob that represents a tiny fraction of moms, and Twitter, which itself attracts about 0.15% of the world's internet users each day … about 1.1 million people in the U.S. And despite a storm of media attention, the ad — together with a YouTube video put together by a mommy blogger on the controversy — received less exposure than one 30-second spot on a cable news network.”

I take issue with Neff’s position. It’s typical — and a bit arrogant — of the advertising industry to equate the impact of a relatively small percentage of the social media audience to advertising equivalencies (and hence importance), thereby minimizing the impact of irritating the mommy blogger community.

I credit J&J for its apology, because that’s what seemed to have helped manage the crisis; in fact, things quieted down after Widmer’s apology was communicated throughout the online community.

Remember the Don Imus fracas in April last year? Initially, no one noticed his tasteless comments about the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team … until the Media Matters blog picked up on it and forwarded video to a group of mainstream media, who ran with the story. It cost Imus his job (though he’s now back to being gainfully employed).

Our tips for crisis communications in the media generally involve addressing a faux pas sooner rather than later, as we would judge the potential impact of the negative response based on the risk to the brand.

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