The Motrin Moms Backlash by the Numbers

If you weren’t following what was happening online this weekend (yes, yes, ok you’ve got a life) there was a Groundswell against Motrin’s latest viral advertisement that was rejected by mothers in Twitter, spread to blogs, and YouTube. I’m not a mom, so at first glance I didn’t understand the offense, but apparently, it was condescending to moms who perceived wearing babies in a sling as ‘fashionable’ accessory, and who didn’t wanted to be labeled as an ‘official mom’. The original video, which was trying to lean on the light side, took to many generalizations with mothers and resulted in a revolt capped by this backlash video.

To learn more about the story, read Laura Fitton’s summary, Dave Knox of P&G is taking note, has made it to the NY Times Parenting Blog, and the VP of Marketing representing Motrin has apparently responded (I can’t confirm this). Update: Motrin has now apologized on their site (see screenshot below) and there’s MSM pickup by Scientific American and Computerworld (of all places)

As much as I’m interested in what folks are saying, allow me to provide an aspect that most others aren’t: short term numerical numbers. (it’s the analyst in me)

The Motrin Moms Backlash by the Numbers
I watch the twitter storm start on Saturday (thanks zsazsa), and watched it carry on through the weekend, I’ve taken snapshots of various analytics and social media tools now on Monday morning.

Motrin gets bump in mentions
Above Screentshot: Twitter stats indicate bump in mentions of “motrin” and “motrinmoms”

Twitscoops shows mentions for "motrin"
Above Screentshot: Twitscoop’s Twitter Analytics shows peak for “motrin” notice there’s no mention before the ad.

Motrin Moms shows peak during weekend in Twitter
Above Screentshot: Twitscoop’s Twitter Analytics shows peak for “motrinmoms”

Over 6000 views on Motrin Mom Video
Above Screentshot: 6,000 views on Youtube Video: Motrin Ad Makes Moms Mad

Search results in YouTube for "Motrin"
Above Screentshot: As a result, 3rd result for “Motrin” in Youtube is to the mother video

Motrin tagged on Delicious
Above Screentshot: Although there are only a few tags for “motrin” on delicious, most point to brand backlash is down
Above Screentshot: The website is down, likely they are removing the ad and reverting to a previous website

Google Results "Motrin moms"
Above Screentshot: Google search results for “Motrin Mother” (I found an adjacent term to measure the impacts) are mainly to brand backlash

Motrin SERP not impacted by blog storm
Above Screentshot: Brand backlash has not impacted Google search results for “motrin”

Update: Nov 20th, It’s finally hit the search results pages of google for “Motrin”, the 9th link down is to the NYT times blog.

Above Screenshot: The site is back up on Monday 11am PST, after being down for a few hours, with the public apology –which I think is handled well

Conclusion: It’s not as bad as it looks…yet
In summary, there were some major blips in social networking tools like Twitter, (it was the top trending topic over the weekend, meaning many saw it that weren’t directly involved) however it’s not likely to cause enough of impact search engine results for “motrin”, be a mainstream press story, or cause damage to stock price.

Overtime, these search results may fade away, depending on how Motrin reacts, and how mothers decide to press the situation.

Although brand backlash certainly wasn’t intention, I’m sure that some at advertising firm who created the campaign will chalk this up as a success (it got influencers talking about the brand –who previously weren’t), although the PR group certainly has been dealing with this firestorm all weekend.

Lessons Learned

  • Always test your campaign with a small segment first
  • Always have staff on hand to be prepared to respond during the weekend
  • Don’t launch a campaign right before the weekend unless you’re prepared to respond
  • The participants have the power, so participate
  • For better or for worse, more influencers are talking about Motrin than ever before
  • I’d love to hear your comments on the fiasco, what short term and long term impacts does this have to the brand? Update: more stats from Freshtakes

    171 Replies to “The Motrin Moms Backlash by the Numbers”

    1. Here’s what I find interesting:
      Not once have I seen any confirmation that Motrin and their marketing team didn’t test their campaign with a small segment or didn’t do focus groups. I’m not saying the ad is right and I am not saying they did.

      But I do know that there are moms that do feel “babywearing” is trendy and do feel it gives them back pain. Is it possible that Motrin just pissed off the wrong group of moms? Or that those moms who did not find it offensive just simply didn’t care to respond?

    2. I ran these videos by my wife, and we have a one year old. She thought they were cute.

      One way or the other, the digital buzz had peaked. The storm was dieing down. Now that the NY Times reported on it – – I would be very interested to see a Keller Fay type study of resulting offline buzz. I suspect that if the right offline publications, like Mommy Magazines, were to cover this story, it could become a real problem. Luckily for Motrin, they advertise in many/most popular Mommy publications, and I don’t know that in today’s economy, those publishers are ready to potentially lose an advertiser over what may become yesterday’s news.

      Love your point about not launching a campaign right before the weekend.

    3. Great to see the numbers on this, thanks!

      I do think you are missing the point as to WHY it was so insulting to mothers. There is a lot of science that proves that wearing your baby benefits both child and parent.

      Here is a good post that debates the points well:

      Babywearing is actually a godsend to most parents with a young baby and tremendously bonding. You want to talk hurting your body and baby, think carrying them around in a heavy bucket as some do!

      If you wear your baby in the correct way, it is actually the best thing for your baby and your body.

      Who would be dumb enough to wear a baby because it was “fashionable”? That is insulting too.

      Then there is the issue of breastfeeding and taking Motrin ( that can cause ulcers….did for me!) which can harm a baby.

      Clearly, the people who put this one out did not think it through and lost lots of customers. I think this bad press and bad taste about Motrin will continue for a long time. Moms do the buying after all for most families.

      Yea for the power of twitter and youtube, even on the weekends!

    4. There’s an old saying, “It doesn’t matter what they say, as long as they’re talking about you.”

      Ultimately, I have no doubt that Motrin sales will increase and many will be from moms with sore backs.


    5. Thanks for your objective post, Jeremiah. I think one lesson for all PR people, both agency and in-house, is that they can no longer afford to not be participating in and monitoring social media. It would have been so easy to pick this up early and respond, possibly turn it into a useful discussion. But both the company and its agencies were caught off-guard. In my opinion, that’s the real mistake here. I, for one, am grateful for the wake-up call.

    6. Is it possible that Motrin just pissed off the wrong group of moms?

      Bingo. They pissed off the “lactivists,” the segment often associated with slings and “babywearing.” This group is highly organized and very tech savvy.

      To call the campaign offensive is pushing it. (There are more pressing things in this world to find offensive.)

      More accurately, I’d just call it ignorant on a number of different levels.

    7. Excellent analysis…it will be interesting to see if the chatter picks up again as folks return from the weekend and read about the happenings.

      This ad highlights the need for businesses to change marketing methods and tactics in order to meet social media standards. Increasingly, customers expect their brands to understand them, to tailor messages to them, to have dialogue with them…and this ad was a glaring failure on all fronts.

      A shocking gaffe when stats tell us that women make 80% of household purchases and that mommy bloggers are an incredibly powerful collective. Talk about a perfect storm…Motrin put a lot on the line with a questionable ad like this to a market niche like that.

      It will be interesting to see what the result is…will mom’s boycott? If this conversation continues, it won’t take long to affect Google results…

    8. If this isn’t a case study you can use to persuade your CMO and head of Corp Comm to up your investment in social media, I don’t know what is.

      While Kathy Widmer, the VP of Marketing responsible for the Motrin brand, has apologized, her work isn’t done yet.

      This morning, she needs to record a video version of her apology to post on — it would better convey her empathy as a mom. (For example, JetBlue is still building goodwill with their CEO’s Valentine’s Day storm apology video.)

      That could have been done last night, but knowing how big companies work, it’s remarkable that the site was shut down at all.

      I still think Widmer and her team at JNJ can turn this into a positive for the Motrin brand. But there is clearly much more left to do.

    9. Oh it POed the wrong crowd of moms alright. And they are the vocal ones. Attachment parenting, nursing, co sleeping, SAHM vs WM, these are all touch points for moms. I cover this industry and I wish they would have run that by me or my team before hand. I could have told them the fashionable thing and the tone would have gotten them in trouble. The women that would agree with that are the type that would let things roll or are too busy to make a stink. The ones that don’t like it have the time and the inclination to be the squeeky wheel. So that’s the part they didn’t understand about who they are marketing to. Sensitive issues are not to be taken lightly when rolling out large campaigns for exactly this reason

    10. Thanks for excellent coverage and analysis of this.

      It’s a related side track, but I’m curious if you can think of any examples of brands that handle this kind of thing correctly?

      By “this kind of thing” I mean both the original idea of rolling out a video like that but more to the point, corporate engagement with the response that followed.

    11. My predictions:

      The fall-out will have a negative impact on this agency for some time to come. Online negativity is timeless. Can you just imagine, even a year or two from now, a prospective client searches online for information about this agency and the overwhelming amount of negative info that they find?

      This incident will impact ad agencies embracing social media. They were already skeptical, slow to participate and this will make them even more cautious in utilizing social media for their clients.

    12. As a marketer, I have to admit that I followed this closer than football yesterday. Sure it was a poorly conceived campaign on Motrin’s part, but most critical/inexcusable error was their total ignorance of the social technographics of their target market. Online moms 25-35 are one of the most connected, social demos in the market. How you could run a campaign targeting these crucial influencers and NOT have a team online monitoring the social sphere is beyond me.

    13. Great analysis — I love seeing the screenshots of the changing trends over the course of the event. I also noticed last night that a Google search for “motrin” was scandal-free. If this remains the case, the damage will be minimal. I think it really depends on what the coverage in the business press is. And I don’t, honestly, expect much more than a blip.

      Still, I think a few more PR and marketing professionals will take notice with each crisis, and (hopefully) start setting up listening posts online.

    14. There is another graph showing first tweets:

      I find this interesting because it shows that the groundswell was not just a vocal few who were retweeting throughout the weekend, but many people weighing in at least once.

      I question the old adage that any publicity is good publicity. I think we are seeing the down side of advertising going viral. In this case, there is an inexpensive generic alternative to Motrin, and many moms who are now aware of this ad may simply make that choice for their next purchase.

    15. I would think your comment “I™m sure that some at advertising firm who created the campaign will chalk this up as a success (it got influencers talking about the brand “who previously weren™t)” was the most apt…

      … Disappointingly though, the Motrin advertising brains behind this ad were clearly not trying to stir the pot, otherwise, they wouldn’t have taken down the website, or done anything to hint at a recantation.

      Which can only mean that they were stupid at worst. Clearly, the ad is somewhat condescending to the idea of baby wearing.. relegating it to a fashion statement and challenging the science / psychology benefits of it. On a personal note, I can’t help but think that calling this technique of child-transportation ‘baby WEARING’ is just asking for some snide commentary; but that is another point all together.

      If motrin was trying to target the baby-wearing mother, and paint their portrait as a concerned company, this ad campaign was a flop. If however, they were trying to appeal to the sardonic cynics like myself who are equally offended by hypersensitivity to mass marketing, this campaign was a success.

      Lets see if Motrin is nimble enough to salvage this fiasco, and at least get people like me to buy their product. A campaign something along the lines of: “Are you tired of hearing hypersensitive mothers whine about silly advertising campaigns… TRY MOTRIN! Its soothing effects will help block out even the shrillest of complaints!”

    16. I have to wonder if this will wake up more companies to social networking and the power of the people. This almost acts as an ad for social media. It demonstrates the viral nature of it and how well it can work, or not work, in establishing your brand.
      I took a look at the ad and as a mother of two that used numerous types of slings I got a bit of a giggle out of it. But that is my personality and I can see how others could be offended.

    17. Thanks for the graphs, Jeremiah. I posted a Harper’s Index style approach to the minor firestorm – as I found the juxtapositioning of the numbers quite interesting. It starkly shows how small the numbers are in contrast to the effect.

      Now the question needs to be, did Motrin react too broadly by taking down the ad? I believe they were smart to respond and apologize, but was removing the ad the right response?

      Here is a link if interested:

    18. Hubbub without a rub.

      I didn’t think the Motrin Ad was offensive at first watching. I watched it again. Same reaction. Without any preamble I showed it to my wife (we have 5 kids and she had occasion to “wear” every one of them). She thought it was ha-larious. When I explained the hubbub she couldn’t see it.

      Jeremiah’s pointers for campaign planning and consumer reaction control are well founded and Motrin’s apology may also have been a good move. It was surely less risky than ignoring it or posting an “explanation.”

      The only thing I learned from this episode was that there are some very useful analytic tools for twitter.

    19. Jeremiah, I’m fascinated by the intensity of the Motrin Mom’s reaction as you’ve captured it. I’ve been taking in perspectives on this all day, and as a response, I have some specific thoughts about how Motrin might begin to act on this event from a creative and executional standpoint “ a plan for an actual campaign strategy. I’ve written about it here:

    20. While I don’t think the ad was not offensive in general, I can see that to the moms who loved their experiences, the ad appears to minimize the way they feel. That triggered a passionate reaction of these moms and the emotion spread.

      I think there was extreme lack of sensitivity the baby carrying mom’s passion, and extreme intensity and velocity of response. But the lack of sensitivity is more of a mistake than a conscious choice to offend these moms.

      We all make mistakes. Those that don’t please show your halo.

      I applaud the respectful response Motrin provided in the end.

      We should encourage risk taking. Sometimes we make mistakes. Let’s encourage more risk taking by giving some credit for their owning up to it! We don’t want to completely kill that spirit.

    21. The big news in social media seems to be the ambush. Maybe with Obama in the White House (soon), we don’t need to bash McCain/Palin as much. I guess though, we still need to gang up on someone. Fun! Then a 3 second news story of the mob who ganged up on a big brand on 3rd Street plays on the evening news.

      How about we all get upset about the earthquake in Indonesia this weekend. Or the Iraq War – 140,000 troops still stuck there. Or Prop 8. Or homeless people sleeping in the streets of New York City in freezing weather. Or our 401K plans.

      This weeekend, I was encouraging a teenager suffering from brittle bone disease whose life is powerfully impaired. Imagine breaking your back twice because you fell and your bones are too fragile.

      Yes, we all love marketing, branding and social media. How about we put those tools to work for causes that transcend a missed marketing play by an otherwise solid brand?

      I have no direct connection to the product or its manufacturer. I do use Motrin as a consumer, and I represent a biotechnology trade association.

    22. An alternate take on what this teaches marketers: test/revise each campaign ad nauseam till it offends no one, then release ad, then monitor all media, and then hope you hear nothing but the cash register.

    23. BZ got it right; the ones with the most invested in being “Mommier than Thou” and the most time on their hands to agitate took over. The rest of us just chuckled and got on with life.

      >>>BZ November 17th, 2008 7:47 am
      Oh it POed the wrong crowd of moms alright. And they are the vocal ones. Attachment parenting, nursing, co sleeping, SAHM vs WM, these are all touch points for moms. I cover this industry and I wish they would have run that by me or my team before hand. I could have told them the fashionable thing and the tone would have gotten them in trouble. The women that would agree with that are the type that would let things roll or are too busy to make a stink. The ones that don™t like it have the time and the inclination to be the squeeky wheel. So that™s the part they didn™t understand about who they are marketing to. Sensitive issues are not to be taken lightly when rolling out large campaigns for exactly this reason>>>

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