Crisis Communication

Motrin Moms – Case Study

Posted on: January 28, 2009

Motrin Moms
Case Study

Crisis Description

In September, Motrin launched a new ad campaign online and in magazines.  The ad, which you can see above, focuses on how wearing a baby can give you a backache. It also gives the impression that baby slings are worn as a fashion statement.

After the ad aired, there was an online explosion of negative PR. One story in USA Today said it perfectly: “Offended moms get tweet revenge over Motrin ads.” The controversy also was one of Advertising Age’s Stories of the Year.

Jessica Gottlieb posted her response to the ad on Twitter, a popular micro-blogging platform. A Twitter hashtag, #MotrinMoms, began to be used when other moms joined the conversation.

The viral controversy spread throughout the various social media outlets. Women, like this one, posted their response on YouTube. There are currently more than 1,300 members of the Facebook group boyotting Motrin.

A graph of the viral activity is available here.

The ad agency wasn’t really aware of what was going on at first, according to Joyce Schwarz.

Social Media Communication

This crisis is a great lesson in how quickly things can go viral through social media. Social media offers the opportunity to engage and enter in a dialogue with an audience. You can see a graph of the viral activity here.

With the rise of social media, companies need to begin to at least track what is being said on blogs, Twitter and other media. They also should consider taking part in social media in order to build relationships with their audiences.

Shannon Paul, who works in new media communications, said in a blog post, “At some point, merely listening won’t be enough. More brands, especially big brands, will either need to learn to engage in social media culture at all levels, or enlist the help of social media natives to carry the message to the community.”

Crisis Communication

The apology below (from the Mom 101 blog) was sent to some of the bloggers who protested the campaign.

I am the Vice President of Marketing for McNeil Consumer Healthcare. I have responsibility for the Motrin Brand, and am responding to concerns about recent advertising on our website. I am, myself, a mom of 3 daughters.

We certainly did not mean to offend moms through our advertising. Instead, we had intended to demonstrate genuine sympathy and appreciation for all that parents do for their babies. We believe deeply that moms know best and we sincerely apologize for disappointing you. Please know that we take your feedback seriously and will take swift action with regard to this ad. We are in process of removing it from our website. It will take longer, unfortunately, for it to be removed from magazine print as it is currently on newstands and in distribution.

This apology was on Motrin’s Web site (found at this blog):

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 sincere apology.

We have heard your complaints about the ad that was featured on our website. We are parents ourselves and take feedback from moms very seriously.

We are in the process of removing this ad from all media. It will, unfortunately, take a bit of time to remove it from our magazine advertising, as it is on newsstands and in distribution.

Thank you for your feedback. Its very important to us.”

Kathy Widmer
Vice President of Marketing
McNeil Consumer Healthcare

Seth Godin said that the apology sounded as if it was put together by a committee.  Blueprint Creative Group said there was a need for a more sincere statement.

Advertising Age’s Tom Martin said Motrin may have overreacted. By simply “shutting down,” Motrin missed out on an opportunity to engage in a conversation with its consumers. According to Wired, only about 1,000 Twitter users responded, out of an estimated 3 million users.

Comparing to Other Situations

In crisis communication, the apology to an audience is very important. It gives the company an opportunity to acknowledge the problem and inform the audience of how the problem will be fixed. Motrin might have looked to other controversial crises for ideas.

In a 2007 crisis, JetBlue’s CEO gave an unscripted apology after its crisis (Public Relations Strategist, 2007).

Motrin’s vice president of marketing was the one to apologize in this situation, which was appropriate since it was an ad campaign controversy. But, it also might have helped if the CEO was more involved.

In the Rutgers University crisis, President Francis Lawrence made an apology in a statement to the press, then in 48,000 letters to the community and also in person at campus meetings. He also focused on open meetings with his constituents (Public Relations Strategist, 1995).

But, if Motrin had done more than apologize online (for example, if they had done a live press conference), more attention would have been drawn to the ad. This would have increased awareness of the problem and may have caused more of a problem.

Motrin did keep the apology short and did not try to justify their actions. Motrin also stated what was to be done to correct the situation, which is another important factor in crisis communication and apologies.

What could have been done differently

One problem was the slowness of updating a Web site.

“If your site has to be taken down in order to respond to a crisis, re-design it so that it can be updated quickly and easily without having to throw your organization and agencies into a panic,” said David Armano on Logic + Emotion.

I think that having an established social media presence also would have been immensely helpful for Motrin.

Blueprint Creative Group said in a post that you need to monitor more than just traditional media. Tracking social media conversations about your company is very important. Google Alerts and Twitter Alerts are easy ways to this.

If I were in Motrin’s PR department, I would suggest starting a parenting blog sponsored by Motrin. The blog wouldn’t write about Motrin, but focus more on useful parenting tips and maybe feature some of the more prominent “mommy bloggers.”

After establishing a blog presence, Motrin could expand its audience with micro parenting tips and ideas through Twitter. A credible Twitter account would have assisted in a more immediate response to the tweets about the ad campaign.

The blog also would have a secondary purpose: giving Motrin access to its target audience. Motrin would have the opportunity to feel out ad campaigns before launching them.

For example, Motrin could have found out what mothers think about baby slings if they had been using social media. Motrin would have then realized the ad campaign was off target if they had been utilizing a social media community through a blog or Twitter account.

Sandra Fathi, president of Affect Strategies and chair of the New Media and Technology Committee of PRSA’s New York Chapter, said Twitter can be used to foster customer loyalty (Public Relations Tactics, 2008).

“Companies can search tweets from their customers to see what questions and critiques they may have,” Fathi said.

With reputation management, “companies can search tweets from their customers to see what questions and critiques they may have,” (Fathi, 2008).

In regards to trends and news,  Twitter is “a great place to listen to chatter in the market and follow key influencers to learn what they are discovering on a daily basis,” (Fathi).

If Motrin had kept its eye on social media before, the company may have realized the negative feedback before it turned into a crisis.


News Sources:

Industry Sources:

Blog Sources:

Print Sources:

Fathi, Sandra. (Oct. 2008). “From generating awareness to managing reputations: Why your company needs to Twitter.” Public Relations Tactics.

Langley, James M. (Winter 1995). Vol 1, No 4. “Lessons learned from Rutgers’ racial ruckus.” Public Relations Strategist.


3 Responses to "Motrin Moms – Case Study"

Wow, exhaustively researched and well written. I would have liked to have seen some of the complaints, verbatim. Otherwise, stellar work!

You can see a lot of the complaints by clicking on the hashtag or some of the other links.

Thank you.

great case study -thanks for writing it up and compiling everything!

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