I told myself I wasn’t going to chime in on the Motrin Moms marketing fiasco, but I just couldn’t help myself. However, rather than simply weighing in on whether or not I think the ad aimed at babywearing moms was offensive, I would rather examine how this marketing debacle validated the simple fact that social media has changed our culture.
Okay, maybe it hasn’t changed for the majority of the population, but it certainly is changing rapidly.
For some background on the Motrin Moms fiasco, take a look at Neville Hobson’s post or Jeremiah Owyang’s. The original ad is posted on YouTube despite being pulled from the Motrin website.
Last Monday, Kathy Widmer, Vice President of Marketing for McNeil Consumer Healthcare, the company that owns the Motrin brand, posted an apology on the Johnson and Johnson corporate blog.
Since I don’t have children, Widmer, a mother of three, probably has a lot more in common with the women who found the Motrin ad offensive than I do, but she was not one of us.
Image via Wikipedia
Winston Churchill’s definition of a gentleman was one who was only rude intentionally. This intention is what sets the gentleman, or gentlewoman, apart. Gentlemen are experts in the explicit and implicit rules of engagement within a given culture. Gentlemen are only ever consciously and deliberately inappropriate; never because of naivety or ignorance.
Knowing the scope of this campaign, I have to believe that a lot of research was done on the front end — it just wasn’t the right kind of research. What they probably crunched were numbers; demographics, buying patterns, lifestyle, income, etc.
They looked at the women they were targeting as likely having higher incomes than the national average, college educated and they may have even put together a profile of a woman who identifies with the female characters on Sex in the City, participates in social causes and describes her own sense of humor as “edgy”.
In this case, something they didn’t weigh carefully became the most important factor: social media engagement.
In my communication within social networks where I have closer relationships, my humor might be deemed as edgy, colorful or even cheeky. Mostly, I can get away with this without offending others within the social networks where I participate because I have relationships that grew familiar enough over time to support this kind of exchange.
The bottom line is that the rules of engagement for marketers have changed because online communities of individuals demand that the communication be more organically human.
We expect better behavior because most of us also create content, albeit on a smaller scale, and we have learned how to generate interest in our work via networks along the social web; this means that we have taken the time to develop relationships. We understand what it takes to be a gentleman (in the Churchill sense of the word) and, right or wrong, we expect others to follow suit.
Many of us tend to resent big brands who don’t take the time to use the available technology to communicate with us before they need us.
The level of acceptable inappropriate behavior is directly proportional to the level of familiarity you have cultivated. I am often intentionally rude with those I know well — this is evidence of our closeness. A stranger engaging in the same kind of behavior would not be tolerated quite so well.
I believe that whether the ad was inappropriate is actually irrelevant. If the Motrin brand, or other brands at McNeil Consumer Healthcare, continue to use even the most innocuous, inoffensive messaging on the social web without participating with us, or at least listening to us, they will continue to fail — maybe with a little less embarrassment, but they will still fail.
Widmer goes on in her apology to say, “One bright spot is that we have learned through this process – in particular, the importance of paying close attention to the conversations that are taking place online. It has also brought home the importance of taking a broader look at what we say and how it may be interpreted.”
To me, focusing on the content of the conversations is just as error prone if you don’t understand the level of familiarity those involved in the community have cultivated. As members of a family or a community, we will communicate differently with one another than we will tolerate from any outsider — that’s just human nature.
Stop thinking of us as publics/numbers/demographics and start thinking of us as a culture.
At some point, merely listening won’t be enough. More brands, especially big brands, will either need to learn to engage in social media culture at all levels, or enlist the help of social media natives to carry the message to the community.
Photo by Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton