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Motrin-Gate: A Lesson for Lawyers?

Did mighty pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson bow to a small but vocal flash mob when it pulled an online video ad for its Motrin pain reliever? Or was the incident a study in the power of social media? "Yes and yes," are the answers, and the dust-up should provide further evidence to legal professionals that social media are not to be ignored, lest they end up with a headache no quantity of Motrin could cure.

The "wearing your baby" ad had been online at for more than a month without generating so much as a ripple of response. The ad featured the voice-over of a mom talking about the fashion of carrying babies in slings "close to the bod." These things put a strain on a mom's back, the voice says, but she does it to look like "an official mom." "If I look tired and crazy," she concludes, "people will understand why."

On Saturday, Nov. 15, some 45 days after the ad first appeared, someone posted an item to the microblogging site Twitter complaining that the ad was insulting to women. By the next day, the ad was generating as many as 300 Tweets an hour (although the total reached only about 1,500). By 9 p.m. on Sunday, Johnson & Johnson shut down the Web site entirely and its vice president of marketing sent out an apology and promised to discontinue the ad campaign. The next morning, it restored the Web site, with its apology prominently displayed.

An article in Advertising Age suggests that Johnson & Johnson "bowed to a vocal flash mob that represents a tiny fraction of moms." But Katie Noonan at The PR Lawyer says Motrin-gate is an interesting case study in the impact of social media. "In the social media age, a PR professional's job is round-the-clock," she writes. "With people using social media sites 24/7, your response time needs to be immediate. It's critical to protecting your brand and preventing a customer relations crisis." Noonan is right, but I would extend her advice to lawyers and legal professionals. On behalf of their clients and themselves, lawyers need to be prepared to respond to social media. In order to do that, they first need to understand it.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on November 25, 2008 at 11:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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