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November 28, 2008

Social Media And The Motrin Controversy: Or, Will Social Media Kill Advertising Creativity?

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PERHAPS, EVEN IF YOUR BRAND preference is Advil, you spent the early part of the week mired in the Motrin controversy. If not, I’ll recap, and then we can turn to my big question of the day.

So, Motrin releases an ad online, that puts the “me” back in Mom-my by explaining, in a tone smothered in snark, that carrying your baby can hurt, and that Motrin can help with the pain you’re feeling. (If you want to see it, click here. Take note of the unforgettable term “baby-wearing.”)

Some of the outraged “Motrin Moms” who saw the ad may disagree with me, but I’d offer that it was not the message of the ad so much as its cataclysm of tone and language that set them off. Describing such “baby-wearing” as a fashion accessory upset many Moms who happily — and apparently without popping Motrin — wear their babies. They then caused a revolt to break out over the weekend on Twitter and elsewhere in the social mediasphere (although, ironically, the ad had been out for more than a month). Ouch. That’s worth taking some Motrin for.

Johnson & Johnson is now pulling the ad, and the sliver of the blogosphere who cares about these things from a social media perspective has been, well, all a-Twitter about how the client should have been monitoring social media sites all weekend long — blah, blah, blah. .

Of course, that’s a procedural oxymoron. No advertiser releases an ad expecting people to revolt against it. The cure, from a social media perspective, is relatively easy: monitor social media to see what people are saying about your brand on an ongoing basis, not just at the moment you happen to be in the middle of a new brand initiative. Stop firestorms before they start.

But my question of the day isn’t exactly about that. It’s about how suffering this outcry will affect advertising for Motrin, and by extension, advertising creativity itself. For that, the cure is much harder. Can we expect. Johnson & Johnson to be skittish the next time a well-meaning creative director presents something somewhat edgy to the client? Yes. Can we expect said idea, even if it makes it out of the conference room, to be focus-grouped to death before it is unleashed to the vocal masses? Yes. And are other advertisers watching the Motrin drama unfold and quaking just a little about whether the campaign they just approved has the ability to incite a riot? Sure.

So what’s a client to do? Developing a thicker skin is always a good first step, but so far in the history of advertising that’s only been achieved by the bravest of marketers. Then, there’s the art of learning not to listen to every person that complains about your advertising, realizing that if the ad is moving the sales needle, certain voices don’t matter. (In this case, the firestorm surrounding this Motrin ad doesn’t seem to make that an option.). Then, there’s the decision to run increasingly conservative advertising, until fully addressable, trackable TV advertising gives marketers enough insight into their ROI to realize those kinds of ads are ineffective. Until that time, the conclusion I draw is that much advertising will go plain vanilla, and that’s too bad for all of us.

(Note: I have received many submissions for our Twitter business model contest, and am sifting through them as we speak. For those who still want to compete, click here to read the details. Remember the deadline for submission is Dec. 12.)

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