Johnson & Johnson’s Motrin Uh-Oh

Motrin Mom Campaign Blunder
In 2008, Johnson & Johnson faced a social media crisis when its Motrin mom campaign backfired.  Advertising Age did a nice job at creating a timeline of the events leading up to it being pulled from circulation.


Brief background
Johnson & Johnson is a multi-national pharmaceutical, medical device, and consumer packaged goods manufacturer.  It operates more than 250 companies in over 60 countries.  The company has a long history of being listed as a Fortune 500 company and is listed as one of the happiest companies to work for.

Social Media Implementation in Business and J&J Itself
Social media has become a vital and ingrained part of business.  Advertising and marketing benefit from the use of social media applications because it generally tends to be cheaper than traditional marketing.  Below is a CPM chart from 2016 (also known as cost per thousand impressions); this metric exemplifies just how cost effective social media is when trying to reach 1,000 people.


Other benefits of social media for business include: quick promotion of brands and products, a two-way interaction between the company and customer, research, and the development of a long- term following.  Companies also realized that the rise of the internet, also helped launch more customer to customer interaction.  The internet, therefore is full of influential individuals, which companies have recognized play a major role in the success of their products and services.  People tend to trust other people who are not associated with the company of the product or service.


Johnson & Johnson has long been known for its emphasis on social engagement as depicted in their Credo when it states it has a responsibility to the community.  In 2014, the company was ranked the top pharmaceutical company for social media engagement by IMS Health.  The company was ranked by utilizing a reach index: a relevance and a relationship index that uses likes, shares and re-tweets.


The company began its social media engagement by creating its first blog in 2006 called Kilmer House, closely followed by JNJ BTW.  J&J maintains a presence on all its interfaces such as YouTube Health channel, Facebook, and the various accounts it holds on Twitter.

The Motrin Advertisement
Despite the success Johnson & Johnson has had with social media and as a company as a whole, the company has dealt with previous incidents that affected its image as a top-notch pharmaceutical company.  One incident occurred  in 2008 when J&J launched Motrin Mom, an online and print campaign for Motrin.

Although it is clear the company aimed to target and sympathize with moms who experience pain by carrying their baby in slings, it inevitably backfired in two ways:

  1. It implied that babies were fashion statements, you were not an official mom if you didn’t use a sling, and even looking
  2. Influential mom bloggers caught wind of this launch and immediately began expressing outrage over the message projected.  Some influential bloggers who began the Motrin storm were Jessica Gottlieb, a Los Anegles blogger with 1000+ Twitter followers and Katja Presnal, an online retailer and New York Blogger with 4000+ Twitter followers, who collected tweets from offended moms and created a YouTube video titled “Motrin Ad Makes Moms Mad“.  As of today, it has been viewed 120,000 times.

Motrin Crisis Management
As a current digital marketing student, this case is an excellent example of what can occur in any business and the plights of using social media.  After this online storm occurred, Johnson & Johnson removed the campaign immediately and its VP of marketing at McNeil Consumer Healthcare, Kathy Widmer, also posted an apology letter on the Motrin Website, mom blogs like New York Times’ Motherlodeand sent out emails to outraged mom bloggers themselves.

In regards to the crisis, I believe Johnson & Johnson immediately pulling the campaign from rotation, showed that the company truly cares about the way consumers’ view its products and the company itself.  Despite this, I can’t help, but wonder if the company reacted too quickly.  I read this Advertising Age article online by Jack Neff who revealed that before the controversy, the video ad was receiving about on 5,000 daily views on average with online buzz being generally positive or neutral towards the campaign.  Once the ordeal began, negative tweets only accounted for about 35% of the tweets using the hashtag motrinmoms.

With this new information, I believe Johnson & Johnson could have apologized, as it did, and tried to explain what their honest intention was: they never meant to undermine any mother or child.  Perhaps J&J could have pulled the campaign and immediately send out a new and improved spin on it by creating a corrective viral advertisement.  An ad in which all moms and their superhero strengths are celebrated.

Using Kathy Widmer as a spokesperson to represent the company during this crisis was great considering that she is also a mother of three.  The company could have used other influential figures or presented other moms who were pleased with the campaign.  In regards to those vocally criticizing that slings did not cause back pain, Johnson & Johnson could have used doctors or back specialists and posted their clinical explanation on their YouTube health channel.

The outraged mom bloggers who J&J had to personally send an email to could have also been invited down to headquarters to meet with Kathy Widmer and the marketing team to show them the studies they did prior to releasing this campaign and even gather some suggestions from them on what moms would rather hear in a Motrin campaign.

Johnson & Johnson should track the online discourse regarding their Motrin campaign and compare the number of people who actually do find it offensive and those who do not.  The company could also track its sales to get a financial perspective on how effective this ad was.  It seems that J&J has a large social media team and rather than increase it in size, it should continue to allow its employees the flexibility to answer consumer questions based on their area of expertise.  The company should also ensure that they have an outstanding management team in place to lead this group effectively.

Despite this blunder, Johnson & Johnson continues to be a thriving company.  Although the implementation of social media allows for faster and sometimes unwanted online discussion, the benefits of using these effective tools outweighs the negative.  It is really up to the company to ensure that they are transparent and ready for any social media storm that may occur.


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