Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Creativity Gone Sour: Motrin, Mothers, and Twitter
Over the weekend I was monitoring Twitter friends and was surprised to discover a bit of a dust up with regard to the Motrin brand. Motrin, it appears, had put up an ad suggesting that mothers who wear those slings to carry their babies are slaves to fashion, and that it hurts their backs. Depending on how you interpret the ad it can also be perceived as calling mothers “tired and crazy”. It also subtly suggests that the sling is not really as much of a bonding experience as it’s purported to be. One would guess the original intention of the ad would be to suggest that Motrin is the answer to all the neck, back, and shoulder pain a mom would would get from using a sling. It was also intended to be a “viral video”. It was! And it was Not Good! A virtual firestorm of negative reaction went aflame on the web.
Motrin, to put it mildly, has really stepped in it (McNeil Consumer Healthcare owns the Motrin brand, McNeil is a division of Johnson & Johnson). Rumor has it that Amy Gates (aka “@crunchygoddess on Twitter) learned about it on Facebook, who told Jessica Gottleib (aka JessicaGottlieb) who took it to Twitter and tweeted — to a huge community of mothers, bloggers, and knucklehead social observers like myself. Then Katja Presnal (aka @KatjaPresnal) created a response video for YouTube. 20 hours later the Motrin brand website is offline…
From a creativity and innovation perspective there are two points about this event I’d like to make.
1. Creativity isn’t useful or innovative unless it solves a problem. Creativity in a vacuum by some ad executive — who think they know the market — can be worse than useless, it can be damaging. We’ve all seen some visually interesting ads and at the end of it said, that was cool — what brand was it? The Motrin ad goes a step further, it’s creative thinking that actually harms a brand. One of the rules of structured creative problem solving is that you really understand the problem. Clearly, those who developed this ad don’t understand the role of slings, and the emotional connection mothers have to them. Now, it may be that slings do indeed cause some pain. Good research might have uncovered this insight. However, that insight alone, even if true, is not quite enough. In good creative problem solving you would not only understand the basic problem, you’d make sure that whatever you create as a solution works for the problem owner, the target in marketing terms. Mom’s clearly were offended by the ad’s tone, assumptions, and suggestions. Motrin aimed for empathy and simply missed the target. With web technologies, like Twitter and other tools, lack of funding is no excuse for not market testing. It’s incredibly easy to show a spot to a panel via the web. Why they didn’t do this is a mystery (or if they did how they missed the negative response). Traditional focus groups would have worked for this testing — if properly designed. I don’t agree with Peter Shankman, a social media guru, on this (his post on this event is otherwise brilliant IMHO). A series of focus groups might have “iterated” the spot and found language that was truly empathetic (or not, the concept may have been unsalvagable). What Peter and I can agree on is web tools like Twitter would have quickly given creators much needed consumer feedback on their ad concept. There is something to be said for the wisdom of crowds in the social media universe.
2. Social Media are Power Tools for creative and innovative self expression. Social Media is coming of age in a fast and furious way. They are powerful and can work for you, or against you. Yes, this might seem obvious, but I believe there is a vast universe of people who are missing the social media boat. I’m personally a Greggey-come-lately to social media. I’ve been on Facebook, Plaxo, and Linked-In for sometime but for the most part have found them to be a waste of time. Don the Idea Guy got me involved with Twitter and I thought, at first, it was completely silly — who would care to know “what I’m doing right now”? Why “micro blog” when you can macro blog or email? I didn’t get it, but am beginning to see the light. The lightning speed at which an organized response to the Motrin ad was put together was amazing, and it can be directly attributed to Twitter. An alert was messaged “tweeted” out and before one could blink there was a video on YouTube with all the outraged responses (nicely done and oh-so-timely by Katja Presnal). Last night it was still possible to see the original ad on the Motrin site, today I can only find it on YouTube. In fact the Motrin brand web page itself has been taken down, I suspect, for re-tooling in light of this marketing fiasco. From ad release to brand web site shutdown — less than 20 hours. Lesson here: be careful with power tools!
It will be interesting to see how Motrin responds to this. How they respond will be make or break for the brand. For more on this story see Fast Company’s take.
For more very short snippets of creativity and innovation news and views, follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/greggfraley