Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Johnson & Johnson's Misstep Shows the Power of Social Media

Social media is here to stay. Need proof? There is no better object lesson than the misstep that Johnson & Johnson just made online that unleashed a torrent of bad blood among the very audience they were trying to court. And that bad blood flowed quickly and deeply among bloggers and Twitter users.

Yes, I'm talking about THAT J&J, one of the biggest, most powerful marketers, and a company known for its social responsibility, and for having a "corporate soul."

J&J posted an ill-advised commercial for its Motrin brand of ibuprofen on its website. The ad was designed to resonate with young moms. Take a look here. You be the judge.

What followed was an overwhelmingly negative flood of angry responses from moms (and others) who felt that the spot was condescending and patronizing. Most of the responders said they'd never buy Motrin again. The threat of a boycott seems very real.

Here's a sample of the reaction:

Clip 1

Clip 2

Clip 3

Maybe the marketing team was out having a beer after work when that ad was to be approved. Maybe someone was asleep at the switch. Maybe the ad agency was just too clever for their client's good. Who knows?

The important lessons are these:

First: Online media is every bit as important as traditional media. And just because it's "only an online ad" doesn't mean it should be treated with any less importance than an ad for network TV (which would have been market tested and well vetted before it ever saw the light of day).

Second: When you see that you've offended people, even if inadvertently, own up to it immediately, and try to make amends. No excuses. J&J has done that, pulling the ads and posting an apology from Kathy Widmer, Vice President of Marketing, on the Motrin website. Kudos for that. Many other companies would have stonewalled or been paralyzed into inaction.

Third: Online communities are here to stay, and if you can communicate with online communities in a manner that shows you respect and understand them, and most importantly, that you are listening to what they are telling you, you can really help your products to succeed.

As Widmer said in an extended apology, “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.”

If you are a marketer, you would also do well to pay attention.

No comments: