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What happens when an ad message goes very wrong?

posted by Alex Hens
19 November 2008

If you have a spread of blog feeds (in particular feeds that are from the US) then you will probably have picked up that over last weekend there was a real stir in the blogosphere. Basically Motrin (a painkiller brand) produced an ad that they posted on their site targeted at mums, hoping to strike a chord and spread the word virally – but boy oh boy did they get it wrong. There was a massive outcry from those active online participants within target audience who felt patronised and insulted by the ad (which you can see here – make up your own mind, but I have to admit I very much see why it solicited such a negative reaction) – and quite quickly there was even a YouTube video response (see that here). The ad was retracted with (at time of writing) a pretty copybook apology posted on their site. Lots has and will be written about this, but for me a couple of things stood out as some key elements: 1.    Motrin properly mucked up (or at least they did with the assistance of their Ad agency did). You’d have to ask why no one picked this up. Did they not show it to some of the target audience? How could they so clearly not understand the target audience? 2.    The Internet has demonstrated (again) how quickly and vociferously it can get a collective impassioned opinion felt by decision makers. 3.    The ad was pulled and because it was Internet based that could be done as soon as there was a clear issue – could you imagine the cost and difficulty if this had been running in printed press or on TV. The damage was quite big here, but could have been a lot worse. 4.    But clearly the ad still exists on youtube – and the fact I (and countless other bloggers) are talking about it means that this episode has and will cast a long shadow within a relatively short time. So what might be learned? > We all make mistakes – that’s what makes us human. Motrin were clearly listening (to some degree) to the feedback and acted pretty quickly to take down the offending advert. And this is why it’s important to listen, because when the Internet speaks about you then you need to at least hear it. Hopefully you won’t get things quite as wrong, but even so, the Internet is like the biggest most diverse (and lowest cost) focus group you could hope to gather – so use it. > But because this is the Internet this episode will live on, both in its cringe-able full glory and through the comment and dialogue about it. The thing is, there’s nothing you can do about that. So what’s most important is actually now what Motrin do from here. It may be ironic to some, but what they actually have is a great opportunity – because the brand almost certainly has more attention than ever before, so here’s hoping that they have the sense and skill to use it. Sticking their heads in the sand now would actually do more harm than good. Brands are made or broken at key moments, and I’m sure Motrin will look back in years to come and see this as one of their defining moments. It’s long been said that “No PR is bad PR” – can Motrin make that a truism?