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Did Motrin Overreact to Twitter Complaints?

Instead of Responding, It Retreated From Vocal Niche

By Published on .

Tom Martin Tom Martin
Last weekend I watched as a few outspoken mommy bloggers started a firestorm via Twitter. Throughout the weekend I was seeing Tweets about a Motrin campaign and could see a groundswell of anger rising. On Monday, Motrin pulled the campaign, issued an apology and the social-media mavens declared victory. And most folks agree that Motrin did the right thing.

But honestly, I disagree. In fact, I think Motrin blew a huge opportunity.

A few items to create context.
  • Based on data from Radian6 and our own manual review of hashtag #motrinmoms, "motrin campaign" shows about 900 tweets between Friday and Monday; overall, #motrinmoms had about 1,500 tweets. A big number. But a lot of them were from the same folks having a conversation via Twitter. All told, just more than 1,000 Twitter handles are found on #motrinmoms with the vast majority of the tweets considered "neutral" in tone. Heck, the positive-toned tweets outnumbered the truly negative-toned tweets. Though, for the record, the positive ones seem to be associated with males. So lots of noise, but few noisemakers.

  • I was able to find about 300 to 400 blog posts on the subject (depending on keyword string) from Nov. 14-16 and 3,000 posts if you track through to Nov. 18. Again, lots of noise. But the vast majority of it was after the issue surfaced and bloggers (including males) around the world simply commented on a hot topic.

  • And finally, my own quick poll of 150 heavy internet-using moms showed that 145 of them are unaware of the campaign or backlash. And of the five that were, not one was planning to boycott or complain to Motrin.
Which begs the question, If the uproar was a vocal minority (as the data above would seem to support) then why did the ad have to be pulled so quickly? Why did Motrin feel the need to move so swiftly?

Why? Because Johnson & Johnson (owner of Motrin) and its ad agency, Taxi, simply reacted instead of responding. And in doing so, they missed a huge opportunity to exploit the real power of social media -- dialogue.

I would have counseled Motrin to do two things.

First, reach out to the offended and apologize via the channel that person used to complain. Acknowledge that the ad obviously is flawed as it certainly offended some, but in the spirit of learning from mistakes, Motrin wants to invite these moms to help Motrin create better ads in the future by participating in a dialogue at Motrin.com. But I wouldn't have yanked the campaign right away because if moms can't see it, they can't comment on it and J&J loses a learning opportunity. There was time to "wait and see" without risking retail backlash. (Then again, the ad had been up for 45 days without earning any scorn.)

Second, if a reporter wants to interview Kathy Widmer, VP-marketing for J&J, let him. But make sure Kathy gets her "we understand the ad has challenges, we've apologized and we're inviting moms to help us understand how to fix it" point in the final story.

By asking the bloggers, Twitterati and everyone else for that matter to join the conversation at Motrin.com, Motrin gets to learn from its "mistake." As it is now, all Motrin knows is that they offended some folks. But it doesn't know if it offended all moms or just a vocal minority. Additionally, it knows it did something wrong, but if you read the tweets and blog posts/comments, no one really offers Motrin any advice about how it should target moms. That insight is worth its weight in gold.

Had Motrin sought to continue the dialogue versus shutting it down, it could have fielded what amounts to a huge online focus group. It could have talked directly to a market it really wants to understand. And if it got really innovative, it could have tried to unite that group as a community that appreciates Motrin's willingness to engage in two-way dialogue.

Instead of playing defense, it should have played offense. I think in the long run, it would be more successful marketing to moms, or at least less likely to piss some of them off.
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