“Paying close attention to the conversations online:” J&J and Motrin Moms

November 18, 2008

It’s 9:45 Pacific Time and in another couple of hours I’ll be doing a PRSA teleseminar on Social Media and Crisis Communication. And then this pops up–the Motrin Mom controversy around a Johnson & Johnson ad. According to the story in PR Week, an online ad created a storm of controversy because it suggests that mom’s carrying babies are in pain–relieved by Motrin of course.

Such a storm online that it was surpassed in traffic only by Christmas and Obama.

Oh my goodness. Admittedly, I’m not a mom, but I’m having a dickens of a time trying to discover what all the outrage is all about. And that is the real point here. Are we actually so hypersensitive that anything that strikes us as a little wrong or insensitive creates a backlash of anger, accusations and acrimony? What has happened to us? I am coming to the conclusion that this is one of the serious downsides of the social media phenomenon–a topic I hope to delve into a lot more in the future. Either we have become remarkably intolerant, just a PO’d generation, or else the desire of bloggers and commentators online is so great to create audiences that the slightest provocation is used to create an avalanche of outrage.

The media–intent as they have been on creating outrage to attract audiences–has never been this successful at creating such a storm in such a short period of time for so little reason.

But J&J is absolutely right in their response. Apologize. Show empathy. Admit what they did wrong. Correct it, try to make it right and validate the legitimacy of the response. They are right to do all that. It should be up to the rest of us to raise the question of what the heck is going on here–even while we advise our clients to do just what J&J is doing.

The most telling line of this story should be on the bulletin board of every PR person today: “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.”

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