The Motrin storm: breathtaking speed and scale

Four years ago, an online storm erupted over the best-selling bicycle lock brand in the USA and how anyone could open the lock with a simple ball-point pen.

kryptoniteblogstorm-sm During a 10-day period, a groundswell of commentary and opinion about Kryptonite locks spread from enthusiasts talking on bike forums to the mainstream media, to a product recall that ultimately cost parent Ingersoll Rand $10 million.

CNN Money has a good summary and created the graph that shows what happened in such a short time (click to see larger size).

What’s not factored into that dollar figure is the cost to reputation.

Wind forward four years to this past weekend and an online storm that has erupted over Motrin, an over-the-counter painkiller sold in the USA, and an advertising video produced by the brand owner McNeil that very quickly offended some mothers.

The storm of protest that has embraced so many different online communication channels – from blogs to video and especially to social networking micro-channels like Twitter – has already prompted an apology from McNeil on the Motrin website and the withdrawal of the video from that website.


And all this has happened in less than 48 hours.

So what’s this all about? Well, take a look for yourself – the pulled video is on YouTube and plenty of other places (including links from blog posts like this one).

What’s most compelling to me isn’t the video that McNeil produced. It’s not especially remarkable: it’s a good example of a marketing message in audio-visual form, nicely produced and quite watchable.

What’s really compelling is the content angry mothers have created themselves, using tools and channels that largely weren’t around four years ago – YouTube, for instance, and definitely Twitter – but today are accessible and easy to use by anyone with an internet connection.

It’s what we tend to label today with the impersonal phrase “user-generated content.”

For instance, check this video out:

I don’t know about you but I can’t help but feel almost overwhelmed by the emotion expressed in these images and the words shown in the various Twitter messages.

And look at what you get if you do a Google search on the brand name “motrin” as I did early today.

motringoogle250 The first result is a link to a Google News page where this story has already made the mainstream media across the US and beyond.

You’d expect the brand website to be the first result in a Google search – and I’m sure it was before this storm broke out.

Remember Kryptonite’s 10 days? This has happened for Motrin in less than 2 days.

As with Kryptonite, this eruption of critical opinion hasn’t been formally organized: it’s happened spontaneously, enabled by technology that gives you the means to very quickly and easily articulate and share an opinion on a scale and with a speed that was unimaginable as recently as even a decade ago. Clay Shirky would be proud.

It’s the scale and speed that still takes many people in the PR business by surprise, used as we still generally are to things developing at a more leisurely pace (let’s call it “analogue speed”) attuned to the traditional news-gathering and reporting cycles of traditional print and broadcast media.

Those days are gone. We no longer have that luxury. As communicators, we must enable our attention all day every single day. And that includes the weekends, something it seems the Motrin communicators weren’t doing.

Of the many blog posts published by communicators and pundits with opinions, one of the best I’ve seen comes from Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang and lessons learned:

  • Always test your campaign with a small segment first
  • Always have staff on hand to be prepared to respond during the weekend
  • Don’t launch a campaign right before the weekend unless you’re prepared to respond
  • The participants have the power, so participate
  • For better or for worse, more influencers are talking about Motrin than ever before

I’d add one in the middle:

  • Ask yourself: what is our plan of action if a viral effect develops around our brand/product/service, especially out of our normal business hours?

But it’s the last two of Jeremiah’s bullet points that are especially important.

What these angry mums represent – and as this is America we’re talking about, it’s “moms” of course; more specifically, MotrinMoms – is an enormous self-organized focus group, providing the brand owner with amazing feedback on their product.

My podcasting partner Shel Holtz and I discussed this Motrin storm in yesterday’s FIR #398 podcast. We’d love to know your opinion about this kerfuffle so do contribute a comment after you’ve listened to the show.

Meanwhile, I hope McNeil are paying very close attention to all the commentary out there. They’ve already apologized. Now they can grasp a golden opportunity to listen and engage.

(Cross-posted from BondBuzz.)

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. links for 2008-11-18 | Souter Consulting Limited

    […] The Motrin storm: breathtaking speed and scale — Wind forward four years to this past weekend and an online storm that has erupted over Motrin, an over-the-counter painkiller sold in the USA, and an advertising video produced by the brand owner McNeil that very quickly offended some mothers. […]

  2. James Bryant

    Where is Motrin produced? Is it here in the USA or China, Germany or someplace else? It scares me whenever I hear of OTC drugs being produced other than in the USA.

  3. Kraft Foods vs. the slime mold moms / we are social

    […] Unlike Nestlé, who’s crisis was stirred up by a global pressure group with hundreds of thousands of members, what’s interesting about this situation is that this seems to have been brought about by a few genuinely upset moms, being savvy about the power of social media, much like Motrin’s 2008 crisis. […]

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