Will Twitter Moms Ever Buy Motrin Again?

18 Nov
2008

Any blog talking about social media and traditional marketing in consumer products companies would be remiss if it didn’t address the recent fiasco of the Motrin “babywearing commercial”. By now, the ad has been taken down, so I am not going to link to it on YouTube. If you missed it, it basically was a throwback to Babywearing Week, which is happening right now. Babywearing week celebrates wearing your baby in a sling or a similar device vs. in a carriage or stroller. Motrin created a web ad, which I believe was put on their own website, as well as YouTube (not sure about other web video sites). This ad, while meant to commiserate with the physical pain in women caused by babywearing, in an “I feel your pain” kind of way, didn’t stay on message. The goodness of the original intent was paved over by a condenscending tone, delivered in a “valleygirl” fashion, as well as by an almost mocking first sentence that referred to babywearing as nothing short of a fad. Now, I personally didn’t think it was the most offensive commercial in the world, albeit somewhat insensitive (judging by the voluminous outcry on Twitter, one would have thought that Freddy / Fannie failed again. It IS only a commercial) . However, it doesn’t really matter what I thought, as I am not part of the target demographic (babywearing mom). Which brings me to my next point.

Oftentimes, marketers, despite their best efforts, have a hard time getting “outside of themselves” to really “walk a mile” in their customers’ shoes. I saw it all the time during my career with CPG brands. Oftentimes, focus groups get conducted within geographic proximity to the market research office. Hmmm… That is bound to produce muddled results. You know, birds of a feather…. Just because everyone in your high school, college, workplace, city, etc. thinks a certain way, does NOT mean that all of America thinks this way. I fall into that trap myself all the time, and forget that the whole country is not using Twitter and is not on Facebook. What? You are not on Twitter? That’s preposterous! In short, Motrin should have done a better job of testing this ad with social media moms.

The great thing about tools like Twitter is that advertisers / brands have an almost-immediate feedback loop about their product / ad / PR effort, etc.  Smart marketers will figure out how to utilize it. Tools like Twitter Search (you can search for a term and watch the conversation in real time) or Tweet Beep (like Google Alerts for Twitter – it emails you each time a keyword is mentioned), can be used to understand what the users are saying about your brand / effort. Even though Twitter is not mainstream by any stretch of imagination, it can at times serve as a proxy for understanding a certain demographic. Twitter users tend to skew towards the more sophisticated / cutting edge / educated of the population. The moms on Twitter felt offended by the Motrin commercial talking down to them. These are thoughful, educated women, and they don’t need to be “talked at” in a condenscending tone. You can see their angry responses in the video below.  My understanding from following these conversation threads, is that Motrin didn’t respond fast enough to the Twitter backlash, and when they did respond, the angry Twitter Moms didn’t consider it a sincere apology written by a real executive.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhR-y1N6R8Q]

If the insensitivity of the Motrin commercial may have gone unnoticed among some moms, the highly-educated social-media-consuming Twitter Mom demographic was certainly going to recoil in horror. This is classic segmentation gone bad. You have to talk to your consumer segments via different channels, while adjusting your message and voice  to that particular segment. You simply can’t carry over the same commercials from one channel to another. The web allows for much more granular targeting and segmentation vs. TV and print. So it’s up to the advertiser to change the message for each segment and subsegment.

As far as the impact that this snaffu will have on Motrin, it is hard to predict. I have no idea if anyone outside of Twitter Moms and YouTube Moms was as enraged. But I do know, that there are a lot of “influencers” who hang out on Twitter, so making them unhappy is not a good thing. Myself and other marketers will certainly be watching how this story develops, and if Motrin can figure out how to use social media to be authentic in their apology.

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  • Steve

    I must’ve missed this entirely. Here’s a response worth reading from a babywearing dad who also used to be a Motrin rep. This ad was bad for more than just reasons of tone: http://instinctparenting.wordpress.com/2008/11/16/motrin-dad/

  • maria

    Steve, thanks for sharing! If true, this is a serious consideration.

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