The message on front page of Motrin has changed, but the original message speaks volumes. Motrin might have missed the mark on targeting moms, but they do understand crisis communication reasonably well and have made some effort to start making amends with some individuals direct.
"With regard to the recent Motrin advertisement, we have heard you. On behalf of McNeil Consumer Healthcare and all of us who work on the Motrin Brand, please accept our apology. ... We are in the process of removing this ad from all media."
The advertisement, if you did not see it, was a snarky play on the idea that moms who use baby carriers and slings are making a fashion statement that "totally makes me look like an official mom." The adverse response — that many moms, most writing on Twitter, were upset by the advertisement — was driven home when the first rebuttal YouTube video went up over the weekend. In sum, Motrin offended a large segment of moms who use baby carriers.
The Motrin Ad Reaction
Not everyone sees it that way. With just more than 1,000 votes in a USA Today blog, only 31 percent of the respondents said that the ad went too far. A few people, claiming to be moms, say they do wear their baby as a fashion statement. Steve Hall at AdRants speculated that America has lost its sense of humor. Dave Winer, who helped pioneer weblogs and was offended by Sarah Palin praising the patriotism of small towns, seemed offended by those offended, saying "Advice for the angry mob: Pick your battles. This is stupid."
On the other end of the spectrum, public relations professionals and communicators were all considering how Motrin might have avoided the crisis all together. Focus groups seem to be a popular choice. But as Frank Martin correctly points out, focus groups only deliver a "maybe."
Monitoring consumers was also a popular solution since it took some time before Motrin knew there was a real problem. Lisa Hoffman and Mack Collier made this case, though it didn't address how the problem could have been avoided. Even with monitoring, the ad was still a keg of gunpowder, playing and waiting for one or two or three voices to spark a social media explosion.
David Armano made some good observations too, including that Motrin's Web site was down for far too long while its communication team coordinated a response. The down time only fueled speculation that the site was either mobbed by traffic, presumably angry moms, or the company was "hiding" (neither was true).
The Reality of the Motrin Case Study.
While it might seem so on the surface, this case study is not at all similar to Mars Inc., Nike, Heinz, or Verizon, all of which were forced to react to varied activist groups that considered their advertisements offensive. On the contrary, Motrin missed the mark on the very target audience it was trying to reach.
In fact, the only thing that may have prevented the advertisement (which ad folks generally loved) from being produced would have been common sense. One person needed to ask the right question. That's right. No focus groups or consumer monitoring would have been needed if even just one person had asked the obvious.
Do these 'baby wearing' moms identify with it being a fashion statement or do they identify it with bonding to their babies?"
Imagine how one simple question may have changed the direction of the entire creative brief. As refreshingly snarky as many (especially ad guys and gals) thought the online ad really was, copywriters must always consider the audience first. If you cannot connect with them, you're dead and your is client too. It's about that simple and it has always been that simple.
"Our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon." — David Ogilvy
Sure, any of us who write copy for this ad and that ad, might come up with something funny to push around the office and chuckle about. But the fundamental objective of advertising is not to be self-congratulatory about our ability to amuse and bemuse our peers and spectators. The real work is about balancing the messages that stand out while connecting with the audience we are trying to reach. Usually, that doesn't include poking fun at the qualities the audience holds most dear, like baby bonding in this case.
So am I saying humor doesn't work? Sure it does. Check out the parody ad Ike Piggot found and posted in support of his idea for a Motrin's "spoof our goof" contest. Maybe that is what the doctor ordered. It relaxed me.