November 17th, 2008

McNeil Meets Twitter – We Hear You

By Kathy Widmer, Vice President of Marketing, McNeil Consumer Healthcare

This weekend, a lot was said about Motrin on Twitter and in the blogosphere. Unfortunately, it was not the kind of conversation that we here at McNeil had hoped to be at the center of.

For those who haven’t been following this, it all began when we ran an advertisement online over the weekend that talked about babywearing – which is a term that we used to describe carrying a child in a sling or wrap.

It was meant to engender sympathy and appreciation for all that parents do for their kids, but did so through an attempt at humor that missed the mark and many moms found offensive.

Now as you can imagine, we certainly didn’t mean to offend moms through our advertising. As a mom of three girls, I understand many of the comments made and agree that we know what’s best for our kids and for ourselves.

On behalf of McNeil, I’m sorry if you found this advertisement insulting. We are are in the process of removing it from our website. Unfortunately, it will take longer for us to remove this advertisement from magazines as several are currently on newsstands and in distribution.

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

19 Responses to “McNeil Meets Twitter – We Hear You”

  1. Dan Keeney, APR says

    Kathy: I think you’ve taken it on the chin pretty good. It’s never fun to have to step back and apologize. But when you do, you should apologize for what you have done and not for how someone reacted to what you have done. In your apology to Katja, you write, “…we sincerely apologize for disappointing you.” Now, I may have an advantage here because I’ve been married for 24 years, but I know that would not be an acceptable apology in my household. Apologize for what you have done. You have inadvertently mocked and offended people you care deeply about and you are sorry. It’s no fun. Painful even. But you need to get the apology right.

  2. Andrew Kinnear says

    Glad to see a response by J&J. Humble and appreciative of the learnings that come from understanding your market. Has this helped to shape your Social Media monitoring strategy?

    I’m interested to see the continued follow up… I personally liked the ad— but I’m not a mommy…

  3. Neville Hobson says

    Kathy, congratulations on this post. I’ve written two posts today on my own blog about Motrin and this kerfuffle, my second post commenting on your communication so far (the message on the Motrin website home page).

    Very glad to know that you are part of the conversation.

  4. Jen Zingsheim says

    Kathy, it’s rough to be the punching bag, even if only for the weekend. I think this post will go far as a genuine response. For what it’s worth, I thought the ad was funny, and I hope that the end result of this isn’t overly dull, uninteresting advertising. While it’s important to be sensitive to your target audience, it’s equally important to allow creative to be, well, creative.

  5. Antoine Clarke says

    Good that you spotted the issue early: imagine if this has festered underground for, say a couple of weeks on blogs BEFORE you heard about it.

    Haven’t seen the ad so I won’t comment. Some people ae too prickly but a lot of the time the offensive ads should have been recognised before they hit the street.

    One idea: let people design ads on YouTube and pick the best one. Have a competition. I’m sure it’s been done.

  6. Kim says

    Ouch – I just watched the commercial for the first time.
    Offensive? Yeah, I can see why – and it’s not a very attractive commercial, either.

    But – JNJ has always been very responsive to the public and this is no exception. It’s just that in this day and age, with immediate communication and social networking/media, “responsive” has needed to become “instantaneous” as “immediate” is sometimes not fast enough.

    Things spread through the internet like a southern California wildfire and man, if you don’t have your finger on the pulse of what is being said, by the next day you are behind the times.

    It’s that fast.

    Having said that, this too shall pass. JNJ has enough goodwill built up over the decades that the apology will stand, the anger will subside and JNJ will retain its integrity with the public.

  7. Allyson Kapin says

    Kathy – glad you responded quickly, posted this to the company blog and sent a note to bloggers. The headline for the post “McNeil Meets Twitter – We Hear You” is exactly how companies such as J&J should be engaging in online social media. The old school of marketing says “The Customer is Always Right.” But Web 2.0 has changed how we market products, issues and our personal brand. “The Customer is Everywhere” now. This is why engagement and transparency is so important to be successful in the Web 2.0 world. I would love to do a follow up story with you for the Fast Company blog.

  8. Toby Bloomberg says

    Kathy – it’s impressive how quickly your team put strategies into place that were more than platitudes. Your apologies were appreciated, your voice in the conversation was necessary; however, the other “bright spots” are the Actions that reinforced the commitment to your target audience which certainly impacted both human and financial resources.

    We continue to learn together how social media marketing is changing the game. I would love to share the lessons learned with our community of marketers on Diva Marketing in an interview with you. I reached out to you Sunday and the offer stands. Looking forward to the next steps that McNeil Consumer Heath takes into social media.

  9. Glenn Fannick says

    I talked about this Motrin flap at a media monitoring presentation I gave yesterday at the Maryland PRSA conference in Baltimore. (

    Many of the attendees knew about it already.

    Many were also impressed by your quick response — any perhaps also in awe by how fast this all happens. We’re less than a week into this and there are already YouTube spoofs! Amazing.

    Despite what some people have said on the Web, your response seems genuine to me.

  10. Thomas L. Gilles (a stockholder) says

    In the most recent annual J&J annual report, there is an article about the Ireland plant burning wood biomass. There is a claim that this will reduce the carbon dioxide emissions compared to natural gas. This is a pure piece of bologna. Wood is about half lignin and half cellulose on a dry basis. Burning it will produce as much carbon dioxide as the equivalent heat from burning natural gas. The only fertilization contribution of the wood ash is potasium.

  11. make money blogging says

    Great advice and very true. One of the most important things bloggers, or any business, can do is try not to give up. Even when times are tough it’s important to be there for your readers and customers because they will remember you in a positive light once things get better and you will be rewarded for your efforts.

  12. Carolyn Thomas says

    Somebody at the agency actually pitched this goofball concept, and somebody at J&J actually approved it.

    I have only one question, Kathy: “What were you thinking?”

    And saying “I’m sorry if you found this advertisement insulting” is NOT an apology, in case your mother never taught you that. Like saying “I’m sorry you’re so mystifyingly oversensitive….”

Leave a Reply

All comments will be reviewed before posting. Since this blog is about Johnson & Johnson, comments that don’t directly relate to the Company or to topics covered on this blog won’t be posted. Please see our comments policy for details.