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Motrin’s slings and arrows problem due to having a quiver full of quiet

Submitted by on Sunday, 16 November 2008 2 Comments

Someone in that room knew.

Maybe it was a junior executive with Taxi New York, the agency that won the $18 million Motrin account in August. Just returning from maternity leave and trying to reassert herself, the timing wasn’t right for her to speak out.

Maybe it was an up-and-coming manager at McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, who feared that calling out the new agency on its tin-earred campaign would pit him against the wrong people further up the food chain.

Or maybe it was a mid-career mom or dad who already had spoken out too many times and had paid the price.

I don’t know who it was. But I’ll bet someone in that room knew and kept quiet. Corporate culture, particularly in the current jobs climate, practically demands it.

The result: motrin.com taken down on Sunday night — though not before the ad had been posted to YouTube — and a frantic round of weekend evening emails from a marketing vice president to bloggers who had written about the issue. Thousands of tweets about the topic in less than nine hours, with more flying in by the minute.

It could be the biggest marketing disaster Johnson & Johnson has ever seen that didn’t involve someone tampering with their product. This one was self-inflicted, with help of a focus group that must have been made up of people under 12 and over 90 who never peek out their doors long enough to see that “baby wearing” is more than a fashion statement.

And where were their online experts? Internet 101: You can’t turn it off on the weekends until you figure out how to shut down the entire Web. A simple Google alert would have caught this when it was merely simmering, not boiling over.

The script of the ad was bad enough:

Wearing your baby seems to be in fashion. I mean, in theory it’s a great idea. There’s the front baby carrier, sling, schwing, wrap, pouch. And who knows what else they’ve come up with. Wear your baby on your side, your front, go hands free. Supposedly it’s a real bonding experience. They say that babies carried close to the body tend to cry less than others. But what about me? Do moms that wear their babies cry more than those who don’t? I sure do! These things put a ton of strain on your back, your neck, your shoulders. Did I mention your back? I mean, I’ll put up with the pain because it’s a good kind of pain; it’s for my kid. Plus, it totally makes me look like an official mom. And so if I look tired and crazy, people will understand why.

The delivery — just one “fer sure” shy of a modern day incarnation of a valley girl — made it worse.

Still, it didn’t particularly offend me, other than as a yet another gross insult to my intelligence from the set that seems to think episiotomy and lobotomy are a package deal.

I used a sling with one guy — and no, I’m not saying which lest it become ammo in a round of “Mom loved you more” wars long after I’m dead and gone. I’m so used to people ridiculing my parenting choices to my face, though, that it doesn’t faze me when it comes from a faceless corporation.

But I can understand why the ad was so deeply offensive to many parents, not just moms.

Just as I can understand why no one raised a hand and said, “Uh, wait a minute. We need to rethink this” when the ad was previewed.

It happened because despite the lip service given in corporations large and small, dissent isn’t all that popular in the business world. The underlings know it, too.

They know which bosses are looking for validation, not input, when they sidle up with a “what do you think?”

They know when to not argue with an idea from on high, because that idea is going to become reality faster than anyone can scream “runaway train!”

They know which higher-up is going to seethe at even a mildly challenging question.

They know the price they and others in the loyal opposition have paid. So they keep quiet.

Not all bosses are like that. One of the best I’ve ever worked for would quickly follow his “what do you think?” with “I’m not looking for any particular answer.” He meant it, too.

If there’s one thing businesses should take from the Motrin Massacre — aside from accepting that this new-fangled social media thing is a force and reconciling themselves to learning it — it’s to stop looking for a particular answer.

Those who don’t learn that could wind up being the next business getting its head handed to it on a Sunday when no one’s minding the store.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • Qrystal said:

    I love social media.

    Not only does it give us all the chance to speak, but we’re getting more practiced in speaking our minds, and we’re showing the corporations that they really need to be concerned with what we’re going to think or say!


  • Debra said:

    For me, I love the exchange of ideas, thought, experiences and information that come daily via social media. And you’re absolutely right: More companies need to abandon the top-down group think and embrace that exchange, too.

    I think it’s going to take a few more Motrins, though, for that to happen. But it will get there. It has to, because they can’t stop the entire Web!