Motrin Marketing Feels the Pain and the Power of Social Media

by Add comments

If you haven’t heard about the HUGE #MotrinMoms furor that erupted this past weeekend, then you must not have seen the multitude of tweets, blogs, and YouTube videos that escalated and intensified throughout Sunday (NOV 16), culminating in the website going down by Sunday evening (“Network Error” message).

In brief, J&J/McNeil Consumer Healthcare rolled out an online video on the brand website for, which over course of a day, infuriated what appeared to be hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Here’s a video that was “inspired” by all the negative comments…


I’m not sure exactly when the offensive Motrin video was launched, but it was picked up on Sunday by some “mommy bloggers”, who then spread the word through Twitter and within hours, it spread far and wide enough to generate a HUGE negative response and viral backlash towards Motrin and J&J/McNeil — some even calling for a boycott of the brand. Although the website finally went down (or got pulled???) by Sunday evening, it was already too late, as the video was uploaded to YouTube for “permanent preservation” in the halls of infamy. You can also see screenshots of the ad on the Small Dots blog.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not a parent, so I probably didn’t take as much offense to the ad as many other folks did, but I can definitely see their point of view.

I watched the whole event transpire throughout Sunday and it was probably one of the most impressive examples of the power of social media that I have seen unfold in front of my eyes…

The key source of conversation and spread was Twitter, which then lead to an escalation of negative blog postings, and then YouTube video responses (and it continues to grow). You can see the aggregation of Twitter streams using the #MotrinMoms and/or #Motrin hashtags, which by the way, was getting tweets by the hundreds every few mintues.

On the positive side, it appears that the VP of Marketing at McNeil has made an effort to reach out and apologize to some bloggers, but the damage may already have been done. Mind you, this was on a Sunday evening, though it’s probably no surprise that they got wind of the situation, as the fervor built over the course of the day, including some emails from folks I know personally to folks at McNeil.

So what’s my take on all this?

Well, I think the key take away from all this is that this is a case where NOT engaging in social media may actually have caused more harm to the brand than if one had engaged in social media, particularly among the target audience. And to now try to engage an audience that has even threatened to boycott your product, means having to climb a “barrier of trust” the size of Everest (or greater, depending on how they choose to respond).

At the very least, one could have engaged the influentials within the target audience (i.e. key mommy bloggers) and ask their opinion of the ad before it gets released to the wild… After all, almost anyone operating in this space will know the importance of mommy bloggers these days. Perhaps market research was done, but one has to remember that in traditional market research, WE are the ones asking the questions and controlling the conversation.

A key question that I was asked by a thought leader in the social media business was: …why didn’t they understand the momblogger audience better before they launched the campaign? and to that, I had to respond that it could possibly be due to “traditional pharma marketing” thinking — the marketing team is sold on an idea by their ad agency and only sees/hears what the agency tells them. Not sure if this is the case, but obviously the current breath of the outrage seems to indicate that even a small amount of social engagement/ interaction regarding the ad may have hinted to what might ensue.

Not to judge anyone at McNeil or their ad agency (apparently, Taxi NYC), but I would have thought a J&J company — if anyone — would have “got it” more than others, as J&J already has blogs, a YouTube Channel, and more. However, it’s a good wake up call to remind us that even the most seemingly harmless and well-intentioned concepts can go awry very quickly. And in this socially engaged and hyper-connected world, a negative message can spread much further and faster than you could ever imagine… Welcome to the Groundswell!

NOTE: Just before posting this, I noticed that the Motrin website is back up again, with an apology note posted in place of the video. Here’s what it says…

UPDATE  (11/18): Kathy Widmer (VP, Marketing @ McNeil) has also posted a response to all this via the J&J blog, It is a good thing that they have already been engaging people through their blog and have offered a mea culpa response (they even start with “We hear you…“), as well as a solution for the future — a lesson that we all learned from JetBlue.

More Sources of Information/Updates

5 Responses to “Motrin Marketing Feels the Pain and the Power of Social Media”

  1. Jessica Gottlieb Says:

    Wow, who knew?

  2. Marc Monseau Says:

    I work at Johnson & Johnson, and just wanted to point out that in addition to the note on the site, Kathy also has a post on the Johnson & Johnson blog,

  3. shwen Says:

    Thanks for reaching out and letting us know about Kathy’s note on Very glad to see such a quick and proactive response to this issue.

  4. Pharma Marketing this week « Impactiviti blog Says:

    [...] over the weekend with a social media firestorm over a Motrin ad. Here’s the backstory, with more here. Frankly, I think this constitutes an over-reaction, and may discourage other healthcare companies [...]

  5. brandon Says:

    I don’t think that everything that goes wrong in a interactive setting stems from companies not “getting it”.

    One of the main lessons to be learned is that there are going to be mistakes in any medium. The important aspect is to learn from this and to continue to be proactive. In this day and age, it is great to get such quick feedback.

Leave a Reply

WP Theme & Icons by N.Design Studio
Entries RSS Comments RSS Log in