Motrin Gets a Headache while Ford needs no new media bailout

This month has been an interesting one in the New Media world. In the early part of the month, Motrin was attacked by an army of Mommy Bloggers and Mommy Twitterers. Motrin ran an ad online with corresponding print campaign discussing “baby wearing” – the practice of putting babys in packs, slings and other devices to help moms carry them. The premise was “this can hurt your back – try Motrin.” The actual execution to me was tone deaf, but to many Mom bloggers and Twitters was offensive. The traffic started to grow on Twitter, with links to posts from Mommy bloggers expressing outrage at the perceived slight. There was even a 9 minute YouTube response with pictures of moms carrying babys and Twitter posts. This all happened on a weekend, but by Sunday night, Kathy Widmer, VP of Marketing had taken down the ad and replaced it with an apology. I’ll get to my take on that response in a second.

Another incident occured when Ford car enthusiast site TheRangerStation.com received a notice from Ford’s legal counsel asking for $5000 and for them to take down their web domain. They posted the notice on their site, asking their fans to get outraged about it. News of the incident hit Twitter, and eventually Social Media News sites.
Very quickly, Ford’s Global Digital Communications head, Scott Monty (an interview with Scott and me on Blog Talk Radio from Blog World Expo) stepped in via Twitter and directly on the Ranger Station to state that he was looking into the issue. Before the end of the day, Scott had gotten in touch with Ford’s legal group, and had clarified the issue on the RangerStation site. (Seems Ranger Station had some counterfiet Ford merchandise for sale, but with some intervention it seems the site will continue.) Scotts responses happened both on the fan forum and via Twitter, in real time, so there was no real chance for the story to ‘spin out of control.’ Noah Malin documents this Ford and Ranger Station story quite well on SearchViews.
What’s the difference in these 2 stories?
1. Listening: Motrin was communicating online, via its site and its video, but it didn’t seem to be listening very well to the response growing about its ad. Ford has a group whose job it is to listen and participate in the online discussions. They were able to catch the controversy, when Motrin wasn’t.
2. Response: Ford was quick to act, clear in their response, and though both brands said they respect their customers, Ford showed it. They stated clearly how enthusiast sites can request a license to use Ford’s brands in their sites.
Motrin apologized and shut down the conversation. As I responded in the comments of the AdAge article about this issue (now closed behind a subscription-only wall), Motrin blew a huge opportunity. My response would have been
“We’re sorry, we hear you. How can we do better? Here’s my email address, here’s a very quick blog we put up about this issue – please leave us comments. We obvioulsy missed this one – but we’re learning. Tell us how to communicate with you better. We won’t do this again.”
This is not the typical response in a typical communications “crisis.” Social Media crisis situations call for different responses than the spokesperson trained to talk to the media might come up with. Those people are very necessary – they can save your company. But they may not have the training to do the same thing online. The missing piece is that a response is not enough. The conversation is the response. Listening first, and then creating a space for discussion, would have helped make Motrin’s headache go away faster.

4 thoughts on “Motrin Gets a Headache while Ford needs no new media bailout”

  1. this is a solid analysis. really enjoyed it. I think the key point you made is that companies don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be honest.

    ON a usability note, why the need for a log-in. Seems like a barrier to comments (it’s kind of a hassle)

  2. Thanks Jeremy:
    Comment spam is the reason for the login, but I’m considering a comment system.
    Thanks for the comment – yes, there’s no need for perfection, as long as we see companies or people are trying to get there.

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