The breathless blogosphere is at it again, excoriating a company who deigned to get involved in online communications without pleasing everyone. Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Motrin, apparently posted an online video ad over the weekend suggesting that Moms who carry their kids might get back pain and benefit from the drug for relief.
Unfortunately, Motrin ran into the Blogosphere Buzzsaw when a number of “Mommy Bloggers” and other social media leaders took exception to the video. Some objected to the spot’s suggestion that Moms might seem harried and even look a little crazy after treking around with their kids all day. Others claimed that devices like slings eliminate pain and alleged that Motrin was targeting Moms who used them.
And, of course, when nobody from Motrin stepped up within the first few hours to respond, the piling on spread beyond Moms to many others from their blog and Twitter pulpits. After all, the unwritten rules state that a company must respond when and how the Blogosphere wants at all times. Otherwise, they “don’t get it” or “don’t care.”
One blogger went so far as to track down a communications person, Lisa Sanders, for Motrin’s ad agency of record. This blogger noted that Sanders “did not know” Peter Shankman, founder of the Help a Reporter Out email list. Joyce Schwarz, the blogger who reached the PR rep, recounted her telephone conversation in some detail including the fact that “it sounded like there were children in the background” on Sanders’ end. She also shared with Sanders (and her blog readers) her unsolicited advice that the ad agency should immediately blog about the incident to say they are looking into it and “probably would even set up an 800 number” for complaints and suggestions about the ad. She also indicated that someone on Twitter said every agency ought to have a “Chief Mom Officer.”
Today, Motrin apparently announced they would withdraw the ad.
Perhaps now would be a good time for everyone to take a deep breath here. This incident raises a number of important issues.
Opinion Isn’t Fact. Just because some people didn’t like — or were even offended by — a particular ad doesn’t mean it was wrong or should be pulled. To expect that a company should stop an ad — or even apologize — because a loud set of online voices objects is simply unreasonable.
Not Everyone Monitors 24/7. As someone who owns a media intelligence company, I would love to see every company have someone dedicated around the clock, 365 days a year to monitoring everything remotely relevant in both traditional and online media. But that’s an absurd expectation — unless you are a blogger on the warpath. In the case of Motrin, we’re not talking about a crisis involving tainted pills or something life-threatening, or even a case of a serious ethical or moral transgression, but rather stylistic and tonal objections to an online ad campaign. If there’s no response on a Saturday afternoon, that’s not an indication that the company doesn’t get it or ignores social media. It’s possible that some of the bloggers and Twitterers may actually step away from their computers for a few hours every now and then.
Listening Doesn’t Always Mean Responding. Many drew the conclusion that because Motrin and its representatives didn’t say anything right away that they were unaware of the conversation. While that may be true, it is important to understand that there are times when a company may choose not to respond but merely listen instead.
Bloggers Aren’t Like Other People. There’s a reason why some people blog and others don’t. It would be a mistake for bloggers to believe that they are representative of the rest of the public. In some cases we may be, but in others we most certainly are not. It is entirely plausible that an online tactic might work well with non-bloggers even if it is regarded unfavorably by the social media class. After all, things like telemarketing continue because they work but good luck finding a blogger who isn’t on the Do Not Call list.
Constructive Criticism Would be a Nice Change. Yes, I know the blogosphere is all about sharp elbows and strong opinions. It’s what gets attention and it’s what often feels good in the moment. But rather than unleashing fury and condescension on companies that may have made a mistake, why not provide constructive, reasoned feedback. Don’t call for boycotts. Don’t immediately demand an apology. Don’t disparage those who initiated a campaign as inept, ill-informed, or incompetent. When you do, you simply provide companies with reason number 5,462,229 why they should avoid social media.
It remains disheartening that so much energy is expended attacking those corporate types who would try to become involved in online media. It is far past time to accept that mistakes may be made and the answer isn’t to call for apologies, boycotts, and retractions. The greater the fury and outrage unleashed, the less likely it is that that company — or others like it — will choose to engage at all. And it’s hard to blame them.