Motrin’s Twitter Moment

by Laura Fitton on November 16, 2008

Motrin's Twitter MomentCongratulations (sort of) Motrin:

You are trending on Twitter!

Congratulations Motrin…

I’m going to take a wild guess that McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a Division of McNEIL-PPC, and their agency of record (Taxi NYC, from what we can tell at the moment) are not carefully monitoring Twitter right now. I’m also going to guess that you’re going to hear a thing or two more about this in the business press (WSJ, Forbes, AP, NYT) before it subsides.

The Fuss.

Many moms (and dads) who blog and tweet and are fans of “babywearing” are finding this Motrin ad (currently it’s right on Sunday afternoon it was pulled from the home page, which was more or less down for the next 16 hours and now displays their apologia) patronizing and disrespectful of the practice of babywearing. It’s kicked up some relatively strong feelings among the community, and a resulting loud racket on Twitter and blogs. (I’ll disclose: 1) I agree the ad is a bit dumb, 2) that I was a babywearer, and 3) that frankly, carrying those g-dmn “bucket style” infant carseats wrecked my back way more than any of my slings and backpacks ever did. But that’s not the point.) UPDATE: Follow the Twittering here. Skimbaco (Katja Presnal) compiled the Twitter screenshots and babywearing photos video below, and collected a long list of blog responses, including her original post. (Found via Jet With Kids)

The Reponse.

On Twitter right now, nothing has appeared from Johnson & Johnson, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, Motrin or Taxi.


The Lesson.

Even if your brand or agency isn’t ready to engage formally and integrate the business applications of Twitter throughout your campaigns, community building and other market engagement efforts, you need to get clued in — fast — to the reasons, times and ways that you can listen. Maybe you’re not even ready for full-time social media monitoring. That’s your call. But not tuning in while you launch a new tactic borders on gross negligence, in this day and age.

Rolling out a new tactic is THE most important time to lend an ear. Smart SuperBowl advertisers could have gained instant consumer feedback on their efforts during the game last year. After every ad Twitter lit up with opinions. Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang prepared this formal analysis based on responses sent to his experimental account @superbowlads. His colleague (who co-authored Groundswell) Josh Bernoff shared his assessment here. Searching or watching Twitter’s search tools for your brand at the moment your ad aired would have yielded even more results.

I’ll update this post as I hear more, and when the companies involved begin to respond. Meanwhile, if your company doesn’t have a good understanding of how your full range of market engagement needs to be informed by sensitive consumer sentiment engines like Twitter, you might want to give your agency a call.


(Evolving: I’ll spare you all the “UPDATE” notations)

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{ 35 trackbacks }

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Anya Clowers, RN November 16, 2008 at 4:01 pm

I agree – and if their goal was to get ANY press (good or bad), bad press amongst mothers is not really a great idea. Mothers are aware that there are alternatives to Motrin and offending your target market is questionable judgement.

I recommend apologizing, then hiring a consultant who is an involved, intelligent, parent- who also is social media intelligent and quick to respond to consumers needs.

Then call your mother.

Susan Etlinger November 16, 2008 at 4:47 pm

Killer post. I have two separate reactions to the ads: one as a mom & blogger (I was always horrible at babywearing; my husband wore the sling with panache); and one as a marketer/blogger (you are so right on; the whole point of tools like Twitter is that they enable us to listen–not just to broadcast.

It seems to me that if you look at the Superbowl, Obama’s campaign and now this in aggregate, we can learn a lot about what it takes to effect the cultural change to support the kinds of communications that are possible now.

Thanks for a great post!

Katja Presnal November 16, 2008 at 5:19 pm

There are so many lessons to learn here. Learning who your target market is vital, and everyone should have known that already when my mother was still babywearing me.

The new lesson here is that if you are not writing your own story, somebody else will, and they do it while you are sleeping. The twitter video was posted at 4 o’clock last night. There might not even be a video if somebody from Motrin had been part of the discussion on Twitter last night. Not to even mention – if they had sent the ad video for a few babywearing bloggers, who know the mommy target market well, since they have been interacting with the moms for years, they would have gotten honest feedback for their campaign and avoided the headache all together.

tweetip November 16, 2008 at 5:44 pm

#motrinmoms ~ 1st Tweets ~ timeline/chart…

Larissa Fair November 16, 2008 at 6:02 pm

Social media monitoring is important in good times and bad. The fact that blog posts, Tweets, and YouTube videos all come up in Google searches, means that companies are going to have to take note. Consider that a potential client, partner, or employee will probably Google a company and find a high percentage of negative blog posts, articles, and more…is probably one that will not choose to work with that company.

Dan Thornton November 16, 2008 at 6:10 pm

It’s an interesting case, particularly if it’s contrasted with Graco, the makers of baby car seats etc, who have an active Twitter account and blog which seems to have been getting a pretty good reaction:

Mark Story November 16, 2008 at 8:43 pm


Great post, Laura. Just in the time that it took me to write a blog post about the topic (“Twitter Makes Motrin Feel the Pain” –, 48 additional comments appeared in Twitter search on #motrinmoms.

The potential to alienate even a small portion of your customer base in a tight economy s dumb, but to be apparently unaware of it over weekend is unforgivable.

Love the blog.


Tina Williams November 16, 2008 at 9:40 pm

Laura-you always have a great perspective on things. As a mom, I was insulted and genuinely angered by both videos. I actually found the Children’s Motrin Video just as offensive in that it starts right off by saying moms don’t speak their minds! Ha, ha!

As a marketer, I am shocked that Motrin, a company that I had a know, like trust for, would disregard that factor to easily. It is going to take a lot of damage control on their part to recover the trust and like part of the equation.

Thanks for the insightful post. My list of bloggers that put up posts on this issue is growing by the minute including this one.


Alan Wolk November 16, 2008 at 10:52 pm

Laura: While your point is well-taken, I wonder if the “dumbness” on Motrin’s part had anything to do with engaging with/monitoring Twitter.

I’m guessing it started long before this weekend, when they first approved the ad.

Because you’ve got to figure they had no idea it would be controversial or offensive and thus had no idea it would get the reaction it did. They totally misread the ferocity of feeling around “babywearing” (FWIW, I’ve had two kids in Bjorns, the oldest is now 10, and this is the first time I’ve ever heard the term “babywearing.” But I digress. Anyone who’s ever given more than a cursory glance at mommy boards knows you don’t mess with that stuff.)

Given the content of the ad and the way it played out with consumers, I wonder what being on Twitter would have accomplished beyond an “oops, sorry- we’re pulling it down” sort of thing. Do you think they could have done anything to manage the situation beyond that?

Morriss Partee November 17, 2008 at 12:13 am

@Alan Wolk – To answer your question: Had anyone at Motrin, Johnson & Johnson, or Taxi been monitoring twitter, they could have nipped the outrage before it went big time on Twitter. I would not have heard of the incident had it not made number one on Twitter Search this morning. Now that it’s gotten quite huge, tens of thousands of people are seeing it, and you bet (as Laura says above), this is going to get some serious press in the business world and in other media. If they had been monitoring twitter at all, they would not have become an instant case study of what happens when you don’t monitor twitter.

Matt Searles November 17, 2008 at 10:18 am

I don’t know, how bad is it that they’re a little slow on the ball this weekend?

I’ve looked at the video and didn’t really get what the hub bub was about.. Yeah.. the women is.. Well my first impression was I didn’t like her cause.. it was a little shallow and stupid.. But I didn’t really think it was that bad..

I can’t tell you how many different kinds of hard liquors, or beers, I refuse to drink because there adds portray men as, if you’ll excuse my french, ignorant, stupid, shallow, dumb asses.

So I get why mothers, and possibly fathers, could feel insulted.. But Jesus.. how much are we all insulted ever day by so this sorta thing? So I guess what I don’t get is why this is such an issue… I mean this particular video caused such an uproar.

Which is not to say I don’t think this sorta thing is a big part of what’s wrong with the world.. This kind of cultural toxin.. But it’s a systemic problem.. something to do with “market morality” as Cornel West would say.. Maybe when social media reformats business we’ll have this worked out a little better..

So I guess my only hope is that the conversation surrounding might making somehow elevate something somewhere a little.

This is totally off the subject.. but I really like colors you ended up going with for your theme.. it’s very inviting and home-e kinda.

Susan Getgood November 17, 2008 at 1:57 pm

Sadly, the chorus of this was just the over-reaction of a bunch of hysterical mums has begun today.

Which misses the whole point.

If an ad aimed at a population misses by more than a mile with more than a few, as this did, it’s a FAIL.

If a company has an opportunity to listen to the community, and doesn’t take it, it’s a FAIL.

In this case, McNeil/Motrin missed in the first go-round and suffered the scars of a tweet and blog storm. Let’s see what they do with the ensuing opportunity.

Vesta November 17, 2008 at 5:31 pm

So, does marginalizing these people (mostly women) as hysterical mommybloggers make the ad OK? It was snarky, ignorant, and way off base for the target market. Don’t moms make most of the Motrin purchases for their households? I’ll bet they do. So I don’t agree that any publicity is good publicity.

And I am really baffled that the apology was emailed directly to bloggers. Why didn’t they go where the fire was to try to put it out? There have been many twitters, including my own, saying that we respect a company that can apologize. But they should have done it quickly ON TWITTER.

I’ll spare you the list of reasons why baby carriers are so fantastic. At this point, the story is about clueless, out-of-touch corporations. Which is why I think this flame is still hot on Monday afternoon.

devnet November 18, 2008 at 11:20 am

Completely blown out of proportion.

I really wish people had something better to do with their lives than to complain about a commercial. I don’t know, maybe helping homeless people or volunteering for some social cause.

But hey, twitter is where it is at! Let’s make things happen online against MOTRIN! Let’s virtually join hands and stick it to the Motrin man!

Sorry people…anyone who partook in the bashing of Motrin’s commercial needs their head examined. Why? Because you saved them from embarrassing themselves further by demanding they take their commercial offline…you should have let them continue to commit a slow suicide by keeping it up.

But hey, continue to debate whether or not baby carriers do or do not cause back pain. Continue to debate on the internal PR practices of a company that you cannot influence. Continue to have your feelings hurt by an advertisement. Continue to make much ado about nothing. After all, it takes your minds off the real issues like the economy, poverty, and homelessness.

Laura Fitton November 18, 2008 at 10:20 pm

@alan the issue would not have risen to the volume that it did had the response been a little faster. that it carried as far and as fast as it did, was the result not so much of “the weekend” as it was the result of a launch and not listen approach. the timing was up to them, as it was their launch…

@devnet while I heartily agree i wish more attention were paid to more severe issues, i don’t think it’s really the case that the companies involved were not influenced. at any rate, this post really focused on one narrow aspect of media competence – the ability now to listen to a firehose of consumer sentiment when you roll something new out…

@all thanks for the many thoughtful comments, trackbacks, links, tweets, etc. while i agree that overall this was a surprisingly large fuss, the ad itself clearly had flaws, and the amount of time that criticism simmered unanswered was notable.

Paul March 19, 2009 at 2:45 pm

This is just retarded – you can’t blame twitter for this in anyway. All you can do is blame a stupide employee ( which is always the route of the issue ) who made a bad marketing choice.

There is no way to pin this as a bad thing for Twitter as the same thing would have happened if printed in a magazine or shown on TV.

Its the internet and it’s full of angry and happy people and putting the blame on Twitter, which has helped a TON of businesses to draw new clients or promote themselves, is foolish.

For the fact you blame this tool shows your lack of understanding and functionality of how the citizens of the net work.

The root of all problems comes back to the person … not to the tool itself.

The unbelievable stupidity of this article causes me to do nothing but to laugh.

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