(Updated link from Seth Godin – adds to this theme of this post, in that TV is a broadcast, push medium)
If you’re an avid marketing blog reader and writer like me, you probably logged on this morning and were surprised to read about the debacle for the Motrin brand around its new 45-second commercial. Many people are offering advice and lessons, but let me be the first to say this and other inevitable controversies will destroy the TV commercial marketing model.
In case you haven’t heard the buzz, here’s a summary of the Motrin issue: Its new ad (above) attempts to connect with moms by talking about how some people “wear their babies” in things like wraps and Baby Bjorns (my wife’s choice for our kids, btw). The ad is an attempt by Motrin to convince mothers that the brand “feels their pain.” But a certain, very vocal set of moms is inflicting pain on the brand. They find the language of the ad offensive, and they have started a “Twitter Storm” of sharing their anger with friends and followers. The brand has since taken down its entire website, and is sending a letter to some angry customers.
Many important mom and marketing bloggers have hit on key lessons. For example, Dave Knox makes the great point that brands must continually monitor what people are saying about their brand. And Karoli wonders why the brand didn’t test this ad in some focus groups that have… um… moms with babies. Adam Kmiec counters that the brand team lacks courage.
But I think the “meta lesson” here is that this shows how hard it is to win with interruptive commercials. Let me first say that I’ve been there. Working on the Tide brand at P&G, I made a few ads that pissed people off. We ran a campaign called “Family Ties” with commercials that showcased family challenges, and how Tide could help solve problems and increase bonds. A lot of people loved the ads, but we always got our fair share of angry letters. People complained when we portrayed an interracial couple, and again when we featured a 40-something new mom. With each occasion we huddled as a team to consider our reaction and whether to pull the plug or not. We survived each scare, but this was back in the late ’90s, before the modern media world arrived…
Today, both general consumer groups and special interests have powerful tools at their disposal. Blogs, discussion boards, and Twitter are now used to spread and incite anger quickly. Search results keep the mistakes top-of-mind for years.
And while the pressure from consumers increases, the need to be noticed is forcing advertisers to take more risks. Brands are buying edgy creative that catches attention above the other 3,000 ads we see each day. And while they might connect with their majority target market, they end up inciting the vocal minority groups (who never asked to have the ad shoved in their faces).
The result is inevitable: GM is blasted for showing a robot that commits suicide. Snickers pulls its ad in which two guys accidentally kiss, and another with Mr. T firing candy at an effeminate jogger. State Farm pulled an ad that humiliated people who bike to work. There is even an organization called Fathers and Husbands that regularly protests ads that make fun of white male men.
What should the GMs, Snickers, State Farms, Motrins, and every other mass marketer of the world do about this constant, growing risk of angering an ever-more-vocal percentage of the population? It’s simple: Stop working to create the perfect 30-second story to interrupt them, and start figuring out ways to add value to their lives.