The Motrin Moms ad campaign: Oy, as they say.

Since the Motrin ad campaign broke this weekend (h/t Jessica Gottlieb with more excellent recaps at at Pistachio and Twitter Maven) I’ve been bombarded with emails (okay, two) asking me what I thought of it. You know, because I’m in advertising and we all know each other.

Wait, actually that’s true. We do.

Which is kind of making me a little nervous because the creative team might in fact be people I know and respect and would have to get drunk one night and then slap them upside the head and ask them what the hell they were thinking.

It’s worth watching to get the full effect, but here’s the transcript:

Wearing your baby seems to be in fashion. I mean, in theory it’s a great idea. There’s the front baby carrier, sling, schwing, wrap, pouch. And who knows what else they’ve come up with. Wear your baby on your side, your front, go hands free. Supposedly [insert air quotes here] it’s a real bonding experience. They say that babies carried close to the body tend to cry less than others. But what about me? Do moms that wear their babies cry more than those who don’t? I sure do! These things put a ton of strain on your back, your neck, your shoulders. Did I mention your back? I mean, I’ll put up with the pain because it’s a good kind of pain; it’s for my kid. Plus, it totally makes me look like an official mom. And so if I look tired and crazy, people will understand why.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Motrin missed the boat. I mean, they close the ad with the tag line, Motrin. We feel your pain.


Why that line makes no sense at all! That line almost sounds like it was written for a campaign that demonstrates some level of empathy with parents.

The script is just calling for a line that “closes the circle” and completes the story.

Motrin. Because you can’t have an epidural every day of the week.

Motrin. Your body just ain’t what it used to be. Sucks for you.

Motrin. It’s like totally what, like, all the official moms are taking.

Motrin. For parents who long for the days that they only got body aches from dancing all night and doing coke.

Motrin. Quit yer whining, woman.


Snide remarks aside–I’ll leave that to the thousands of moms on twitter who are going nuts right now if you search #motrinmoms–I’m actually feeling Motrin’s own pain right now. They have an awesome brand, a tried-and-true product, and a very smart idea at its core: Motrin works on the pain that only mothers understand.

What the campaign is missing is the love.

And that’s not something that can be captured in a single throwaway line about being willing to endure pain for your kid.

It’s not easy to do snarky well when you’re talking about parenting. Popular blogs like Motherhood Uncensored, Finslippy, Baby on Bored, White Trash Mom, Laid off Dad, and Metrodad to name a few, are not popular simply because they illuminate the ups and downs of parenting with brutal, hilarious honesty, but because they do it through the eyes of parents who truly, deeply love their children. It’s the rare writer who can capture the negatives without bitterness, who can elaborate on the hell without sounding, well, like a 34 year-old male copywriter who’s never had a kid. Whether or not that’s actually the case.

There are some good freaking writers on parenting blogs. They connect with thousands of parents every day. And none of them are making nearly what creatives in ad agencies are making.

Maybe that should change.

Update: I just received an official statement by email from Kathy Widmer, McNeil’s VP of Marketing

I am the Vice President of Marketing for McNeil Consumer Healthcare. I have responsibility for the Motrin Brand, and am responding to concerns about recent advertising on our website. I am, myself, a mom of 3 daughters.

We certainly did not mean to offend moms through our advertising. Instead, we had intended to demonstrate genuine sympathy and appreciation for all that parents do for their babies. We believe deeply that moms know best and we sincerely apologize for disappointing you. Please know that we take your feedback seriously and will take swift action with regard to this ad. We are in process of removing it from our website. It will take longer, unfortunately, for it to be removed from magazine print as it is currently on newstands and in distribution.

Nicely done.

And now I think it’s time for the twittering to callllm down just a bit, for everyone to stop calling for the company’s head on a platter, and allow them to make amends. After all, we do like our ibuprofen, right?


One more update, via a friend at the ad agency: The copywriter is no longer with the agency.

She’s on maternity leave.



79 thoughts on “The Motrin Moms ad campaign: Oy, as they say.”

  1. You always know exactly what to say – I was curious to hear your take on it. From the PR perspective I feel bad for their crisis communications team who won’t know what hit them tomorrow morning. They’ll all be poppin’ Motrin like it’s candy.

  2. My problem with #MotrinMoms is that people and groups of people are misrepresented all the time in the media. It’s wrong of Motrin to assume that moms are strained and in pain carrying their kids around in carrying do-dads, but you don’t think this went a little out of control? No mom EVER disliked one of those things? No one EVER got a backache or a headache? I guess that if they had to carry the babies with their arms they couldn’t type and go Twitter-crazy, that’s true. It was a marketing snafu and it’s a PR nightmare, but if Twitter moms and Mommy bloggers think they are being targeted, I think they’re wrong. I’m so not the demographic…I find it all annoying.Hell, I carried my babies on my hip and said “hang on tight bucko” and then I was hand-free too.

  3. “Wearing my baby isn’t just a great bonding experience. It can be the ultimate in fashion. I’ve got a denim sling for play dates, a silk shantung front carrier for nights on the town, and a black leather wrap for when I’m feeling real bitchy. It’s a great idea. They say that babies carried close to the body tend to cry less than others. But what about me? Do moms that wear their babies cry more than those who don’t? I sure do! These things put a ton of strain on your back, your neck, your shoulders. Did I mention your back? I mean, I’ll put up with the pain because it’s a good kind of pain; it’s for my kid. Plus, wearing a baby totally covers the spit-up stains on my shirts. Now, if I could just find a fanny-pack version to hide my huge ass.”Better? Okay, I’m still bitter.:oD

  4. Thanks for posting this…I had no idea what everyone was talking about on Twitter (hell, I’m still trying to figure out what the # means in front of certain handles on Twitter), but it makes sense now.

  5. Amy (Hi Amy!) of course I think there’s a lot of overreacting. Calling for the ad agency’s resignation? Ridiculous. But I do believe moms are fair to point out that there’s a brand out there essentially mocking what many feel is not only an important parenting choice to them, but a whole model of parenting. I showed the ad today at the agency where I’m working and everyone gasped. So it’s not just moms. And Jozet, if you ever want a job…

  6. Yeah, the local parenting group has a letter writing campaign in the works. Poor decision, motrin. Too bad cause they were a godsend when I had mastitis with my first child.

  7. Motrin. For parents who long for the days that they only got body aches from dancing all night and doing coke.LMFAOi think babywearing is a whole lot less painful than carrying baby in your arms all day. not to mention so much more convenient. maybe they should’ve just gone with a kids are heavy theme. like in general. no need to pick on babywearers who, in my opinion, are doing it the smart way!

  8. Holy crap. I had no idea what I was doing was trendy. I mean, really I should have looked better if I was trendy. I guess I was way more cool than I thought. If anyone is watching, this absolutely influences my choices, even if I know it was some idiot kid who wrote it. Someone else wrote a check for it.

  9. I saw the ad again and have to admit that it didn’t seem nearly as bad as I thought the first time …but still a bit annoying….I guess I feel badly for those who came up with the ad…a little empathy, but I am still switching to generic …

  10. When I carried Dawson in a sling, people laughed at me. I never could figure out why. Maybe because back then it wasn’t “in fashion” or something.I think this ad is like a bad joke. Hopefully the people at Motrin will realize their mistake, if they haven’t already.

  11. WOW that is bad. We live out of the country so I have been a bit out of the loop. Glad to know my choice to use slings is so in fashion and I am not sure what I would do if I didn’t look like an official Mom! I think for their next commercial they could target home schooling Moms cause I am sure they all have headaches from listening to their kids all day long!

  12. Both ads were just really poorly scripted and directed. They didn’t know their audience well, nor did they have a clear idea what they wanted to convey (especially with the Motrin IB ad).And it does kill me that a lot of people made a lot of money for doing such a lousy job, but apparently that’s happening all over the country these days.

  13. Look at you go Liz. You are like the ad agency avenger.I’m picturing you wearing a wonder woman outfit as you wrote this. But that just might be because I’m pervy like that. Heh.

  14. You covered this nicely and I’m glad you posted the email. It was a gaffe, and as a bona fide marketing weasel I know how easy it is to miss the mark completely when you THINK you’re hitting some kind of sweet spot. It seems obvious in retrospect, but I doubt there was any nefarious intent.Also, I wore my baby half the freaking day long in a backpack today and I totally took ibuprofen tonight because OW.Store brand, though. Sorry Motrin.

  15. Absolutely. I love Motrin, really. It’s the only thing that – taken early enough – prevents me from getting a migraine (which is much better than trying to treat one). For me, it works a heck of a lot better than generic ibuprofen. I don’t know why.Anyway, I was a little bugged by the ad, as it seemed a bit condescending, rather than commiserating. (But I never once thought about boycotting them.) I’m glad you posted their ad agency’s response.Thank you!

  16. Thank you for posting the apology email. The implication that I wear my son to be “cool” and a official mom really got me. I became an official mom when I gave birth to my child via c-section. I did use Motrin to ease that pain. Babywearing = pain? Not so much.I am glad that a brand I know and trust did the right thing by retracting the ad and offering an apology. This is exactly the response that I was looking for.

  17. i felt like I was listening to the bitter mom at playgroup who didnt want to be a mom, never wanted to be a mom and was pissed off that her birth control failed. big ad fail

  18. It looks like everyone got the apology letter but me. I didn’t expect this sort of outcry but I did feel sucker punched when I read the ad and it’s been 6+ years since I’ve worn a baby.Plus, I only wore the baby to hide my stinkin’ fat.*sigh*I was just plain mean.

  19. This is a great post and I love your alterate tag line suggestions. When I viewed the commercial after seeing a few tweets about it. I wasn’t so much offended, I just thought it was stupid and off the mark. Based on the Twitter buzz, I’d have to say it was waaaay off the mark. I do love me some ibuprofen, so hopefully they can make amends.

  20. Yeah, dumb ad. But hardly something to get all upset about, IMO. Sometimes “having a sense of humor” means recognizing the fact that not everybody is funny, and it doesn’t mean they’re out to get you.

  21. Ok, my absolute favorites are:“Motrin. For parents who long for the days that they only got body aches from dancing all night and doing coke.”and“Motrin. Quit yer whining, woman.”The first one sounds like something I’d say, the second one make me think of my hubby. HA!

  22. I agree: there is no reason to be “out for blood” or try to “make them pay” for this silly ad. Motrin has apologized, pulled the ad, and it was obviously an honest mistake. In no way did they calculate in order to alienate moms!I think we need to forgive and forget, the situation has been remedied already. I linked to your post.

  23. abdpbt agreed, in the scheme of things it’s not the worst thing to ever happen to mankind. I might put the resurgence of stirrup pants up ahead of the Motrin ad there. A call for boycott is definitely over the top, when I think satisfaction can be achieved through dialogue. But in any case, to a lot of moms, babywearing is a very personal, very deeply held value. It’s not like a company was making fun of their shoes.

  24. I admit, wearing my 17 month old son in my sling does make my back achy. But, I think Motrin definitely missed the mark on this ad campaign. I didn’t feel like I could connect or relate to their message because I felt like I was being mocked instead of sympathized with. Advil works much better for my pains anyway. :o)

  25. Hmm. Completely agreed that the ad was off the mark. Very obviously, a misdirected attempt to try to reach a very, very specific demographic. It was the “real mom” line that was just flat out not in good taste, and just stands out from the rest of the bad writing in the ad.However, Motrin was obviously not *trying* to alienate anyone, their intention was not to do that at all b/c obviously, they want our business! So it’s time to just chalk it up to bad decision making, and not go so overboard was to demand resignations and boycotts and all kinds of other drama. It’s fine. They screwed up, they admitted it, maybe now they’ll remember to CHECK ads with some of the demographic they’re trying to reach before publishing it to the masses. In the long run? I’d rather have my motrin than remember their screwup.

  26. That really is fabulous how they responded. And on a Sunday no less. NOW if they’ll only have a big ole contest and let us submit OUR ideas for a better commercial (with big bank as a payback, natch).

  27. Good lord, people. Take a pill. (Um…) I just feel fortunate that after this presidential election we can freak out about something as minor as ad copy. I guess if I was into baby wearing, I may be offended. But I get the point of the ad, even if the copy is off. Maybe it was my meaty babies, but that stuff HURTS! Especially when you wait until your mid-30’s to start using up those eggs.

  28. You mean, moms DON’T wear their babies to be fashionable? Does this mean I can stop wearing my baby now?? Sweet.(Nicely done, Motrin. Now that’s the way to take swift action. Power to the internets!)

  29. Oof. I have to agree that the reaction to this seems a bit over the top. Motrin missed the mark, but it wouldn’t even make my top 20 list of ad campaigns that are demeaning and insulting to mothers and women. Their core idea is good: Parenting a kid can make you ache all over; our product can help. But their tone fell way, way flat.

  30. Feeder – I guess the issue is that it’s denigrating a very strong core value that a lot of mothers have, while simultaneously trying to reach out to those mothers. There are plenty of ads out there that are insulting to women, but usually they’re selling beer to college guys.

  31. I disagree that most of the denigrating ads are the ones aimed at guys (“Momma makes white bright like the sunshine. Momma’s got the magic of Clorox 2.”) But, between you and me and bottle of pinot, we could probably come up with a miles long list that encompassed all types. Maybe I’m in a particularly forgiving mood, but behind the crappy lines, I hear the intent to convey all the ambivalence of parenthood in that ad: “I love the sling! I hate the sling! Am I wearing the sling because all my friends are? Maybe. Does it matter? I don’t know, but my back hurts.” If that’s what they were going for, it doesn’t offend me.You said it best: Snarky is hard and it comes off best when mixed with love and heart and real experience.

  32. A general response:Of course there are more important issues. Of course.Of course no one is losing sleep and calling their therapist over being seriously offended by a commercial. Of course.This is just something that struck home and went viral. Over. Done.However, the reason is it important is that by participating in a “small issue” with a “small voice” united, it may have given some person somewhere the confidence to speak up on some slightly bigger issue and feel that, you know, maybe my voice along with others *will* be heard and *will* make some difference.This was an eye-opener and a test run for some people. I don’t think that people aren’t outraged about all sorts of Very Important Matters. I just think that they might believe that it’s too big for them to be an important additional voice.And honestly…playing the “mom on mom” wars is just old hat and fairly boring. It’s been smacked down, sure; but that doesn’t mean that you don’t keep smacking it down so that new moms need to start from square one with fighting for their image in the media. A lot of us have been doing that hard work for them for years so that we can offer a leg up to move on to the more important issues. Don’t look at this mess and waste energy, oh ye fresh into the fray; we got you covered. Now, onward and upward.

  33. Late to this … I can’t say that I’m outraged because, honestly, I’m more outraged about advertising aimed at getting kids to pester their parents whilst at the grocery store.It’s a little amusing to think that the advertisers got it so wrong … or did they? They respond quickly and appologize and all’s well with the world again.Of course, I can’t really hate Motrin because Tylenol doesn’t work for my girl. But then again, with the pennies being pinched around here, I’m passing it over for generic ibuprofen. just sayin’

  34. i TOTALLY missed this on twitter. and, like tulip, was confused by all the motrin references. and, like tulip, am still confused by the # symbol on twitter….but, alas…i’m so glad i read your post on this and really have only two things to say..a) ads miss the mark ALL THE DAMN TIME. b) their mistake this time? missing the mark when moms are involved. moms sure are a powerful people 😉

  35. Hmmmm…Maybe this was all just a brilliant ploy by the drug company to get the name Motrin out there. Even negative attention is attention right? I don’t really think this, but it did run through my mind as I read about this whole controversy in your blog post today. Your alternative lines were brilliant I might add 😉 -Monica

  36. I just posted about my belief that this whole thing was a tempest in a teapot. I really think it would behoove us to yield the awesome power of the blogosphere a little more carefully…

  37. I wasn’t offended but I did think that it was stupid since the slings are easier on your back than carrying your child around in a carseat – now that’s a back pain concern they could use in a national ad.

  38. I’m a mom who wears a sling and a carrier all the time. And it makes my body hurt sometimes. Seems like a fairly decent starting point for an ad, why not? It’s harmless, no? So what if it wasn’t in perfect pitch? Who cares. It was close enough, easily as close as a ton of blogs that take the same dry, disaffected approach. I live in a house that takes critiquing commercials VERY seriously and still, this hoopla seems silly for such a modest clip.

  39. Watched the ad, watched some of the video responses.Ad was not particularly good – with some poorly chosen words – especially at the end.But it is definitely not worth all this controversy. Surely there are more important things to get worked up about in this world like high levels infant mortality, women dying in childbirth of preventable causes…. the list goes on and on.And BTW… I used Motrin plenty when my kids were just born – sling or no sling – my muscles ached.Thought you handled it well. Everyone else seems to need a chill pill – or to come join me Tanzania to understand what really matters…(I hate to use the “development card” but please…..)

  40. Hal, I love you to death, but I really don’t like the old moral equivalency argument. It’s okay to hate an ad and to <>also<> be upset about the state of the world. Jozet above put it way better than I could. That said, I do think people need to chill. And go to Tanzania. Starting with me.

  41. I’m not playing the moral equivalency arguement. Just saying that this is really not a controversy in the larger sense of things and there are many other ways to spend our indignant energies. Are we all so insecure that a stupid ad threatens our sense of parenting?OK… so maybe it is moral equivalency… but I’m right 🙂

  42. We-elll…Imagine if it was an ad about how single moms are all getting in vitro just to be trendy. You know, since celebrities do it and all. I think that attachment parenting moms look at this as an attack on their values, not their choices. I’m not going to take a side on that (although lord knows I’m no Sears fan) but I think it’s important for a marketer to know the audience and what the hot button issues are to them. And I still want to go to Tanzania.

  43. I can’t get behind the hating on Motrin here. First, because I popped at least three in the past 24 hours.Second, although I have at least one foot in the babywearing, extended breastfeeding camp (recently graduated!), these things DO sometimes hurt. The way the ad is written implies that they are DESIGNED to hurt, so the folks who should take offense are the sling makers (lawsuit Bjorn v. Motrin?). But c’mon, it’s an exaggeration.If one is totally engaged in the online community, I can see how they would believe that this ad has offended too many people and must go, but I’m betting it was tested with moms and they thought it was fine. MOST moms are not twittering, blogging, or wearing a really comfortable sling. I would guess that Motrin has not turned the world against them.I’m feeling bad for the VP of Marketing. I don’t think her mistake was so idiotic as everyone is claiming.

  44. Pharma cares so much that babies get the best sort of care being brought up… they would never imply babies are a nuisance. Never.

  45. Wow, this is the best description I’ve read of this whole event. You are exactly right – they missed the love. And I appreciate the call to calm down a bit. As much as I love to jump on a feminist bandwagon – I just didn’t see what the major deal was. For me, it certainly wasn’t offensive enough to ban the brand.

  46. wow. you guys rock! now use your power to convince brooke shields that those “have a baby for german engineering” ads MUST stop.

  47. Bjorns and Snuglis hurt like hell and are bad for the baby.Proper baby carriers DO NOT! If they are hurting, is because you are doing something wrong.I wear my heavy 1yo for hours in a wrap with no pain whatsoever.Stupid and misinformed add! And yes, I agree with the comment that attachment parenting moms felt that their VALUES were attacked, not only their choices.This the brioo-ha-ha.

  48. “There are some good freaking writers on parenting blogs. They connect with thousands of parents every day. And none of them are making nearly what creatives in ad agencies are making. Maybe that should change.” I could not say it better so I quoted that perfect statement. It’s also the freedom of all bloggers to voice any kind of corporate feedback – in any way an individual blogger chooses to voice their support, concern, or frustration – that keeps the blogging universe an amazing venue for open, and ideally uncensored communication, for all audiences, corporate or private. Idealistic I know, but I will hold onto that thread forever and a day. Thank you Liz, for wrapping up the dead horse that really was beginning to stink. BTW, where do I get me an invisible plane?

  49. First of all, I was never upset at the ad. I just thought it was dumb. It was a misfire and I felt sorry for Motrin and the ad agency that is sure to be fired. But, hey, everyone’s talking their brand, so maybe not.

  50. all i could think was “this didn’t die in focus groups?” knowing all the layers, it’s amazing this got as far as it did. but the ironic ending to the story (maternity leave!) made me snarf my happy hour cocktail.

  51. Hey Liz-It’s Anne Nodar (now Stesney) from the old Donny D days. Great blog. Your stepmom told me about it but I didn’t realize I knew you! You’ve taken a very sane and empathetic approach to this Motrin thing. Kudos! If I wrote about it, I wouldn’t have been so fair. (I have maaaaaajor Dr. Sears issues.)Anyway, congrats on such a fun, mom site!-Anne

  52. The maternity leave ending to your story made me wonder if this is her first baby. Because becoming a mom is never what you expect it to be so *maybe* that was what she thought before the baby came? Poor rookie.

  53. ok it’s official. People are whiney little weenies and will complain and get offended over every little thing. I have a Toddlerhawk and it’s fabulous. But the fact remains, added weight is going to make you ache eventually. Get over it already, people.

  54. I’m allergic to Motrin, ibprofen and the whole NSAI class of drugs. Super bummer.I have a great idea for an ad-Kids screaming, drawing on the walls, the phone’s ringing, the dog is barking, some one’s at the door. Then you see Mom in the bathroom pops something in her mouth, takes a drink of water. Blows the hair out of her face and smiles refreshed. Knocking on the bathroom door, “mom. Mom! MOM!!” Mom opens the door with a smile on her face.Tag line voice over “Have a Zoloft day” (or insert your fav. SSRI)Now that’d be an ad I’d like to see.

  55. I’m not on twitter, but with regard to the complaints and online protests, I don’t think it was overreacting at all. It’s true there are sexist ads all over the place, but the mommy ones upset me even more, and I’m glad someone started at attack on this. Maybe if I could sling my baby (which I can do quite comfortably, thanks very much, and he’s a beast) in public without 100 morons asking if it kills my back (no, that’s the purpose of the fabric- support) and maybe if there weren’t seemingly a backlash against any parenting attitude or tool that isn’t 100% mainstream, then MAYBE I could see this as merely annoying. But I viewed it as very condescending toward any mom who chooses to use this centuries-old, parenting tool. To me it was just fuel for the prejudicial fire against how I parent.

  56. I gotta say. Since when did the Mommyblogger become the take-everything-way-too-serious blogger? I loved Kristen’s video because she was having a laugh but HOLY JEEBS, people! There are some REALLY fucked up things going on in this country and around the world. To spend this much time and energy on a poor-taste commercial says little about the state of advertising and more about us as moms in response. What’s frustrating to me is that truly we have a voice as a community and in this case we seem to be using it for the wrong reasons.

  57. Having only learned of this yesterday – it is interesting to read all the reactions . . . now that things have calmed down a bit and no – I won’t dare click the twitter link, I don’t want my pc to implode!Glad they made amends, it was the right thing to do.

  58. Great post. And yes – it would suck to be Motrin’s agency right now. But there is a much more salacious scandal brewing in the New York ad world right now. Google “BBDO video scandal”. You can’t make this stuff up.

  59. I can’t believe I haven’t commented on this post but I have to go on the record because you made me pee my pants. From laughing. I can’t believe you mentioned WTM! Thank you for considering me worthy, even if I don’t have bladder control when I read your posts. You rock, as always. Happy Turkey Day!

  60. In the eighties they had a televison commercial with a young mother saying, “I was surprised when the hospital gave me Tylenol after my C-section.” I would always say back to the lady on television, “My reaction would have been outrage!”

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