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Social Media as a Product Testing Audience (e.g. for Motrin)

To catch you up, Motrin posted the below ad and people, particularly baby-carrying mothers, were so offended that the makers of Motrin pulled the ad.

Many of the offended people (“Motrin Moms” there were dubbed) were on Twitter, as well as blogs and YouTube. As a result, marketers are starting to get scared of social media, just as social media is taking off as a legitimate communications approach.

But another way of looking at it is, better the Motrin ad underwent a social media firestorm than a mass media firestorm. Sure the situation was embarrassing, but in sheer numbers this was a small audience of offended persons in the relatively small percentage of the population currently using social media in any significant way. As a baby-carrying dad, the ad made what I thought were obvious errors in execution: cute language and slick typography doesn’t mask the fact that the ad includes copy insulting to the people it’s trying to sell to. But the advertiser obviously needed more feedback to understand this, and they got it — without it offending even larger numbers of people with a larger campaign. From this perspective looking at social media as a testing platform, it was a success.

McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the makers of Motrin, or their agency, Taxi, obviously weren’t prepared for this possibility as the Motrin site was completely down in the midst of the situation. We can easily imagine an ad (or a product) that was launched specifically in social media channels to test the waters, and modified or changed quickly based on the feedback. But this requires a company to be in touch with it’s consumers, and what we saw this week is Motrin Moms telling the company “you clearly don’t understand me.”

  1. Interesting case, Victor!

    However as an ex-2times-baby-carrying-father myself I’m wondering what people find so ‘offending’ about this ad? ;-)

    In a sense this ad addressed quite a few success ingredients of social media that are supposed to ‘guarantee’ success. Amongst them and most of all the ad is authentic in a sense that it does tell the ‘truth’ in a quite direct fashion.

    Accordingly I wonder if this case isn’t rather addressing an issue of ‘culture’ instead since I wonder if it would have similarly ‘sucked’ in Germany as well?!

  2. Great insight. I can tell you for a fact that there are CPG companies out there doing just this: running small scale, test and learn focused “campaigns” in social media to test messaging or creative.

  3. @Ralf — thanks for commenting. As for what people find offensive, it’ll be easier to follow the links above to learn first hand rather than have me explain.

    I don’t know how this would play in Germany, but being a more progressive society which probably embraces baby carrying more readily my guess is this ad would have been much less effective, though perhaps not offensive. I can tell you my German wife found it both offensive and stupid, as a properly designed and adjusted carrier doesn’t cause pain.

  4. Hi Victor and thanks for your reply! Fully agree and in particular on your statement about the ‘rehearsal’ idea on a social rather than mass media platform.

    After all and this goes beyond ‘cultural differences’, based on my very own experiences anything that deals with views, opinions, attitudes, etc. related to kids in general, how to raise and educate them, and finally (the ‘evergreen’) vaccination will automatically result in the most polarizing discussions one can imagine … This might be one of the reasons why we mostly see those kind of happy, harmless ads, etc.

  5. I loved your idea of using social media to test out ads.
    Unfortunately for Motrin, I saw a print version of this Motrin ad in the December 2008 issue of Real Simple just the other day.
    Too bad that they did a full media campaign with it, instead of just putting out the video on social media sites. I’d say Motrin’s PR department is going to have a lot of long hours this holiday.

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