As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

Power to the people, especially those muscular young mothers

Katja Presnal, minding her own business, before Motrin got her dander up

Katja Presnal, minding her own business, before Motrin got her dander up

So I was casually surveying Twitter last weekend and one of the people I follow, @katjapresnal (Katja Presnal) started posting a link to a Motrin ad targeting moms.  Specifically, moms who carry their babies in slings, or baby “wearers”.   The Motrin ad had a cynical tone which questioned the sanity of lugging a baby around at the expense of your back.  The ad’s narrator concludes that even though carrying her baby around makes her “look tired and crazy”, she would keep doing it because,  “besides, it totally makes me look like an official mom.”

Katja was offended and kept re-posting the link (with rather mild commentary, actually)  and she started eliciting lots of supporting/outraged Tweets (the name for messages on Twitter).  She then created a video montage of the thousands of Tweets  (The angry messages were incongruously set to the lyrical and calm Danny Boy tune–Katja later confessed in an interview that she only chose the piece because it was the “longest royalty-free song” she could find to cover her 10 minute video. ).

I caught it all early on Twitter and thought, “Hmmm, this could really blow up.”  Truly, I had no idea where it would actually go.  At this point that Motrin ad has been viewed on YouTube over 200,000 times, it was the top topic on Twitter, and Motrin’s web traffic went up by a factor of ten.  Katja’s video has been viewed over 70,000 times, and her own blog links to 80 other blogs who covered the Motrin topic. The Motrin VP of Marketing has issued an apology, the ads have been pulled, and professional damage control is on the way.

Why am I bringing this up?  Because the power of social media is still vastly underestimated and only beginning to be tapped.  Marketers have always made missteps but it used to take days, or weeks, for consumer backlash to surface.  Motrin was particularly unlucky (or stupid) to mess with Gen Y mothers…some of the very most avid users of social media.

The timing of this controversy was kind of ironic because we had featured a gorgeous baby sling on Daily Grommet just three days before.  When we prepared for the video I asked around, just out of curiosity, if there is any residual mother schism (still) about the “politics” of baby wearing.  I was assured that it wasn’t really a controversial topic…and that turned out to be true….everyone who chimed in on this “debate” landed squarely on the same side.

Fortunately, this is not a picture of Julie's car.   She got the interior fire out before the whole car ignited.

Fortunately, this is not a picture of Julie's car...she got the fire out before the whole car ignited

What could this social media power mean for an ordinary consumer?  Here’s one example.  My neighbor Julie bought an Audi in April, was happily driving it until a month ago when the wiring in the heated driver’s seat went crazy and set itself on fire.  After saving her family from a near disaster, Julie is now locked in a battle with Audi to swap out her repaired, but way-too-exciting car for a comparable used vehicle (without extra pyrotechnic features.)  She hit a stone wall with the dealer (they want her to trade down to a lesser value car) and is now in communication with the official Audi arbitration person.  Here is what I advised Julie to do:

  • Tell Audi exactly what she wants from the company (she has a specific used car picked out) and give them 48 hours to deliver
  • Threaten to implement a social media campaign that will make the few thousand dollars of difference in the negotiation dance look like penny candy.  Here’s what it looks like:
  • Create an “I hate Audi” blog on Tumblr (quick and easy to do)
  • Shoot a simple 2 minute video from her phone or a Flip camera (easy) telling the flaming seat story, and put it up on the blog and on, at a minimum, YouTube.  (videos get priority on Google searches so Saturday morning consumers researching a possible Audi purchase could conceivably trip on the video)
  • Search the blog site Technorati for “Audi” and post the hot seat story on any Audi-related blogs
  • Pay $14.99 on to buy the domain name “”–it’s available, and put the story up on that new site.  (creating that page might be hard for Julie, but her 13 year old could do it)
  • If Julie were already active on Twitter and Facebook, she could do a Motrin-esque campaign about Audi.  She isn’t, so this would be hard for her-but it would be piece of cake for someone who hangs on these sites with even a modest level of connectedness.

Get the idea?  I happen to love Audi cars, and always prefer to take the nice guy, collaborative road.  But Julie has been at this for over a month, Audi wants to take away her loaner car and give her back the original one, and she is very afraid to drive the torched-seat car, even with the repairs completed.  If Julie told Ms. Audi Arbitration she had 48 hours to settle the problem or the above steps would be implemented (plus the threat of treble damages under the Massachusetts Lemon Law), I believe the $8,000 that separates Julie from a satisfactory conclusion would look like, well, penny candy.

2 Responses to “Power to the people, especially those muscular young mothers”

  1. Katja Presnal

    I simply saw many moms were upset with the ad, and wanted to help to get their voices heard.

    I did not start the Motrin ad conversation at Twitter, I simply said I would collect everyone’s opinions. Also, some of the 80 blogs mentioned in my blog are written to express the ad did not offend them. I posted also the letter from the VP of marketing in less than 24 hours after the motrin talk was started at twitter, and also wrote that we should publicly thank Motrin for listening.

    Many moms were offended, and while there are a lot of ads out there that are not “that great” or may even offend someone, the point here was that the ad’s target market was “babywearing moms” (babywearing hurts->take motrin), it was the same niche of moms that was offended by the ad. It is just poor marketing to offend the target market to whom you are marketing your product.

  2. julespieri

    Hi Katja, I respected the way you handled this….less as a rabble rouser and instead, as you point out, more of a collector of opinion. Thanks for adding this new information to my post. I agree it was pretty strange to offend your target market. I had the sense the campaign was created with a Gen X sensibility (more snarky) and the target market is heavily Gen Y (younger, prefer more sincere/authentic communications).


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