Motrin Ad Mess Shows Power Of Social Media, Resiliency of Print

Unlike web ads, printing can't just disappear overnight.

Over the weekend, one of the best examples yet of the power of social media to dominate traditional forms of advertising took place. The collective voice of the Twitterverse quashed a video and print campaign within two days of launch, and posed an interesting issue for print advertisers. But I'll get to that last part in a minute.

It began with a campaign launched by the Johnson & Johnson brand, Motrin. The Motrin ad was designed to appeal to moms who have sore backs from using baby carriers. The problem? Throughout the course of the mostly copy-driven ad, babies are positioned as a trendy fashion accessory, sling-wearing moms are positioned as desperate to achieve 'official' mommy-status, and the entire baby-carrying process is portrayed as a mostly thankless pain in the…back.

Within moments of launch, and over the weekend, no less, the video and print ads were torn apart by angry Motrin moms on Twitter. One Twitter-user even put together a YouTube video chronicling the backlash found on Twitter.

As for Motrin? They got enough pissed-off emails from baby-carrier moms (and dads) that they pulled the campaign after only two days. The ad space on their homepage is now replaced by a big apology: "With regards to the recent Motrin advertisement, we have heard you."

You'd think they could have gotten the same result from two seconds of targeted market research BEFORE they launched the campaign.

This kind of instant response – instant action phenomenon between social media and advertisers is becoming increasingly commonplace. It's actually incredible to see how fast this all went down – from launch, to backlash, to shutdown and apology in 48 hours.


Of course, and this brings me back to the interesting issue for print advertisers, you can shut down a web campaign or a TV commercial in two seconds, but with print ads? By the time a campaign launches, the magazines are going to print or are already on the shelves, the billboards are up, the direct mail is printed and in the post – all this print collateral can't be shut down so easily.

So at a time when a controversial web ad can disappear overnight, print remains stubbornly out in the midst of the whirlwind, for all to see and discuss and have opinions on.

On the one hand, this should encourage designers and advertisers to thoroughly proof and test-market their materials before going to press. On the other hand, is it really such a bad thing to have a print campaign draw this kind of attention?

In their official apology, Motrin is very sorry about the print ads they can't pull quite so easily as their web ads, but guess what? Their now-rogue print ads have officially become conversation pieces. Every time someone sees one, they're going to say, "Oh, did you hear about the Motrin Mom controversy?"

Moreover, there's bound to be the inevitable reverse backlash amongst those who don't think much of the whole righteous indignation bit. It's just a goofy commercial, after all, and why do people have to be so prickly? Hmm, maybe I'll try Motrin, cynics will inevitably say, just to stick it to those pushy moms…

You can't buy that kind of interest in a print campaign.

So maybe print doesn't allow advertisers to instantly backpedal at the slightest sign of negative feedback. But maybe that's not such a bad thing. Print advertising began during an era when the success or failure of a campaign wasn't decided in 24 or 48 hours. Maybe during an era where taste and opinions can turn the tides overnight, print ads remains a way for advertisers to stick by the integrity of their campaigns, whether they like it or not.

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