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What's your drug (case study) of choice?

For anyone that didn’t hear about the “Motrin moms” story, here’s some background:  Last month Motrin made an online video about babywearing for International Babywearing Week.  They thought it would be a great fit for their brand by telling moms that Motrin knows how fashionable babywearing is, and how all the cool, “official” moms do it.  But it hurts.  So, you know… take some Motrin.

The video went viral, but not at all in the way Motrin had hoped.

The backlash was intense.  Baby wearing isn’t hip, said moms, we do it because it keeps our children close, it is comforting to them and we love our children.  And Motrin, have you ever tried carrying a baby in your arms all day long?  That hurts.  Baby wearing is actually comfortable by comparison.

Baby wearing videos were made, photos posted online, and mom bloggers and Twitter moms told Motrin what they thought of their campaign.  (It sucked.)  Oh, and did I mention that this all happened in about 2 days?

What went wrong?

So where did Motrin go wrong?  They didn’t think about their buyer persona.  They thought they knew the moms they were reaching, but they were sorely mistaken.  Had they done a bit more research on babywearing and talked to some mommy bloggers about it, maybe they could have done something to tie into baby wearing week that was actually effective, instead of alienating a huge potential market.

As a fairly recent graduate, when I hear about Motrin I can’t help but think about the Tylenol case study we learned about in several PR classes.  (In case you aren’t aware of this one:  in 1982 several people in Chicago died from taking poisoned Tylenol from bottles that had been tampered with.  Tylenol lost tons of money by pulling its product off shelves and reaching out to consumers to apologize and make it right as best they could.  Tamper-proof bottles were a result of the case.  It’s a huge case study taught in PR classes when learning about crisis communication.)

I can’t help but wonder – will Motrin be the new Tylenol?  Will the case studies learned by the next generation of PR graduates be about Dell, Comcast and Motrin instead of Waco and Tylenol?  (Any current students reading?  What case studies are you learning about in PR, marketing and communications classes?)

Public relations is evolving

In my opinion… they should be.  There’s been a lot of talk recently about PR being a dying industry.  PR isn’t dying.  But it is evolving.  Businesses will always want to find and reach their buyers.  The media (in some form or another) will always exist and need things to write about.  

But think about it:  PR used to be about spin and control.  And I’ve got news for you: spin and control are impossible in a Web 2.0 world.  You can get your message out there, but if it doesn’t hit the mark, you better be ready to communicate.  Openly and honestly.  You need to get to know your buyers.

Just ask Motrin.

(For the record, Motrin’s VP of marketing did apologize on the company Website, and removed the offensive video.  But of course, the story, the video, and all of the responses from angry mothers, are still quite easy to find.)


Laurel Miltner is a consultant at PR 20/20, a Cleveland-based inbound marketing agency and PR firm.  Follow her on Twitter - @laurelmackenzie.
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