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It's been about a week now since the now infamous Motrin ad hit the air waves. It caused a social media firestorm the likes of which the internet might never have seen and that's saying something. If for some reason, you haven't heard, you can go to parenting.amuchbetterway.com and see the ad for yourself along with a couple of comebacks. In fact, there have been many comebacks to this ad. My friend, copywriter extraordinaire Julie Roads, wrote her own ad, then recorded a podcast. Of course the ad was condescending to parents (not just Moms) and it was stupid, but I've been thinking maybe that was by design.

What if the ad agency behind the Motrin ad was counting on social networking to take a condescending message, let it float in the blogosphere, let the Mommy bloggers pick it up and get people talking about Motrin? What if they were operating on the premise that there is no such thing as bad publicity? What's if they were thinking it's easier to apologize afterward? Is it possible? Anything's possible.

What is Viral Marketing?

The idea behind any viral marketing campaign is to get people talking about your product. Motrin has certainly had people talking about their product. It had people analyzing the ad, dissecting the ad, parodying the ad, attacking the ad. You name it and it was there everywhere you looked. It was all over Twitter for about 4 days with people going back and forth. Everyone had an opinion.

One of the running themes in the post-mortem analysis of the ad was that Motrin didn't bother to do any focus groups before releasing the ad into the wilds of the internet. When I saw the apology earlier this week and saw it was from a female VP, I was surprised. You could write it off as a bunch of stupid men, but there were women who were moms in the room and they didn't scream? Something was clearly wrong with this picture.

It's Alright Now, I've Learned My Lessons Well

Last summer JC Penney supposedly released a "risque" viral ad on YouTube "by mistake" then tried to back off from it immediately. It depicted two teens getting ready for a date by timing how fast they could get dressed and undressed and JCPenney thought it linked them to promoting teen sex. I took JC Penney to task in the post JC Penney Fails to Grasp the Value of Viral Marketing because people were talking about JC Penney on the internet, perhaps for the first time ever. My guess is that the lesson from that incident was not lost on Motrin. They learned it very well, or at least the ad agency they hired did. When you figure the ad was timed to coincide with International Baby Wearing Week, it's just another hard-to-believe coincidence surrounding this video. If they didn't know, it just gave it them a little more lift on their social marketing experiment.

I asked a marketing pro if it were possible for this to be contrived and this person thought it was unlikely a drug company would take such a risk. Maybe not, but even if they didn't intend to do this, it was more publicity than Motrin could have ever dreamed of. Remember when you were a teen and blew through your curfew because it was easier to apologize afterward. Motrin might have counted on this too. Maybe this ad was released with malice aforethought. Maybe it was just a stupid and boneheaded move by completely clueless corporation. Either way, it worked out great for them.

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