Middle Road in Motrin-Gate Was Right Choice for J&J

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Johnson & Johnson did the right thing when it pulled its Motrin ads after an outcry from a minuscule but loud group of Twitterers and mommy bloggers. It made the problem disappear.

A brief history of the scandal: J&J placed an online ad, created by Taxi, on the web. It featured a voice-over of a mom who says she carries her baby in a sling because it's good for her, and she sees it as a "fashion statement" and validation. Nothing happened. Forty-five days later, mommy bloggers noticed the ad and took offense at the suggestion that a mom would use a sling as a fashion statement. The alarm was raised and word spread through mommy blogs and Twitterers. Faced by outrage from the baby-wearing community, J&J pulled the ads.

There are plenty of people on both sides of this debate who feel J&J made the wrong move. Some think the company overreacted by "caving" to such a small group. Members of that group, on the other hand, think the company didn't do enough. Indeed, during the three days that didn't rock the nation, a few even went to the trouble of drawing up a list of demands for J&J.

J&J executives would have been within their rights to release a YouTube video of executives laughing as they read such demands. Mommy bloggers and Twitterers make up a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the U.S. population. Twitter attracts about 0.15% of the online population. It just happens that a large number of that 0.15% work in advertising and media. A not-insignificant number of mommy bloggers have worked in advertising or media. In essence, this was a ready-made media firestorm.

Showing that it understands the power of social media to ruin a brand -- and that it's never good business to offend the customer -- J&J responded within 24 hours to this crisis and yanked the ad. It didn't make a big fuss about it, and the story will die in this corner of the media universe. Mommy bloggers might know how to Twitter. But far more moms in the U.S. don't even know what a Twitter is.

We're not telling every marketer to cave in to every interest group, but in this case, J&J rightly realized it had little choice. It had nothing to win by alienating a vocal audience of moms.

As for the rest of us, we need to understand that our latest tech and media obsessions aren't the obsessions of the wider population. And our influencer status may be far overhyped.
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