Step on a Crack, Break Your Mother’s Motrin

Note sure if this title dates me. When I was a child it there was an expression we said to each other, “step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” The idea was that you would avoid stepping on cracks in the concrete, otherwise it would hurt your mom. Something like sticking pins in voodoo dolls, I guess.

This week the Chicago Tribune carried a story called “Company caves to moms’ Motrin ad backlash.” The story includes a link to the commercial for Motrin, which says in way too words that mothers who carry their babies somewhere on their bodies will get back pains. And Motrin will fix the problem. Here’s some copy from the story to put my post in context:

“Offend mommy bloggers at your own peril. They can chew you up and spit you out in a day. That’s what happened to McNeil Consumer Healthcare’s new ad campaign for Motrin. Saturday morning, all was fine. By Monday, a contrite McNeil had yanked the campaign and its vice president of marketing was busy issuing apologies.The offense? An online ad aimed at moms who, the ad surmised, might need Motrin to ease back pain caused by using slings and such to carry their babies.”

This is a funny public relations backlash (pun intended) because first, the commercial is stupid. It goes on and on explaining the justification for pushing Motrin onto women. Second, it shows the downside of advertising in combination with the downward spiral of negative publicity. Let me explain.

As all the marketing gurus will tell you, advertising is about pushing information onto people. Public relations is usually getting a third-party source to say you are wonderful . In the case of Motrin, the third-party sources said that Motrin offended mothers. Advertisers can show how their product solves a problem. However, researching that problem first, can give clues into what might backfire (I did it again).

In this case, Motrin could have done a better job of setting this up. If they had some parenting authority say that research shows that moms that carry their baby on their backs are more prone to back pain, then maybe, just maybe, they could make the argument that Motrin could help. It’s the type of self serving attitude that has worked in the past before the Internet. I remember when I was a child that toothpaste commercials pushed the fact the fluoride in toothpaste prevented cavities based on dentists’ recommendations. So, at least putting a toxic chemical in your mouth made sense.

Some well intended commercials have missed the mark many times and public relations campaigns can miss their objectives too. However, maybe in this case, thinking about the intended audience first and doing some research could have gotten this back on the right track. (I never knew there could be so much potential for puns with the word “back”.)