Understanding online cultures: Motrin moms and international online motherhood

As a Brit, I hadn’t come across the controversy about the Motrin Moms TV advertising, although I’ve seen it referenced in lots of social media blogs.

I’m confused at some of the coverage which seems to focus on the corporate response rather than the terrifying lack of imagination involved in creating the advertising itself.

i just did a little homework, looking at the advertising, the initial response and some of the follow-up and I have to hope that if I had been anywhere near Motrin and their advertisers, I would have pointed out that they were inadvertently creating all the conditions for a Perfect Storm:

1. Talk about baby slings irreverently

I can’t believe they went there.  The Continuum Concept – it’s not just a book, it is practically a religion.   You would not believe the number of fervent baby-sling makers out there.   They are young, they use organic cotton, they are online and they are, well, a bit militant.

2. Use hipster talk and graphics to try to address a young, net-literate audience

The advertisers might not have intended to target online types with a heavy Twitter habit, but the style certainly looks as though it’s trying to engage their ironic geek attention.

3. Fundamentally, be in the business of flogging painkillers to the masses

If there is one thing that committed baby-sling wearers hate more than disposable nappies and powdered formula, it is Big Pharma.     You spend your entire pregnancy attempting to be as organic as possible, eschewing all painkillers as potential toxins;  and you carry that mindset right through the early breastfeeding days.   Taking a painkiller for your backache?  Are you serious?!!!  You might as well drink neat gin and be done with it.

Anyway.  Selling drugs to desperately health-conscious internet-savvy corporate-suspicious slightly-militant new mothers =starting from a bad place.

I don’t know about the general attitude to painkillers in the US, I have no idea about Motrin’s brand image, and there are aspects of the culture that I no doubt miss, but…I’ve been an online mum.    Still am, obviously, but rather past the baby stage.    I can sketch out the online mum subcultures of the UK and USA in a giant geek map if required to do so.    I can’t think of a mum subculture where this approach would have resonated.

I’ve seen commenters say (in comments) that as there were only 1,000 complaints on Twitter and Twitter mums were not the target audience, the company shouldn’t have worried.  I think they’re dead wrong about that, in this case.

Here’s where it gets difficult: online firestorms do not always match genuine outrage in the community of relevance.  Sometimes it can be a very bad guide to popular response.  In this case, I think it’s simple:  the attempt to engage through advertising backfired badly.     It could have resonated, I suppose, with the baby-sling sceptics, but the tone was off, and in any case the core proposition (sort out your baby-sling backache by necking pills) clangs horribly any way you try to deconstruct it.

Social media helps critics and sceptics to argue back with big corporations, and to mobilise support from their networks.  As well as sales figures and bland market research presentations, you get the direct, irritated voice of the complainer.  That’s not something everyone is ready for.   How to distinguish genuine complaint from issue-annexing?   Know your audience, both on- and off-line.

ETA One  thing that does bother me:  place-of-response bias.  Did the Twitter complaints get executives’ attention precisely because it took place on Twitter (nicely searchable and beloved geek-den) rather than deep in the comments on the message boards of parenting sites?

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