The recent attempt by Johnson & Johnson ‘to engender sympathy and appreciation for all that parents do for their kids…through an attempt at humor” in an online ad for the OTC pain-killer Motrin, was met by a predictable blowback from women across the blogosphere, on YouTube and on Twitter who found it an insensitive portrayal of women’s pain (in the ad, the pains are from carrying their baby in slings). The ad was quickly pulled, apologies were made and a threatened boycott of the product is seemingly avoided.
For people who are engaged with new media, the story reinforces for them how potent the voice of the people formerly known as the audience can be and how quickly people can be mobilized with social media. For pharmaceutical companies, nonprofit organizations and government agencies still contemplating a move into new media, the story reinforces their worse fears: loss of control over the message, negative feedback and criticism, threats to integrity and self-generated brands (as opposed to ones that are co-created with users). In short, more reinforcement for reasons to not join the dance.
As social marketers, we can also ask: who tested the ads to begin with? But more importantly, did they test the ads with the right people? Testing of this message, or any others intended to be viewed online, needs to be done with the people who will see the message – not ‘mothers,’ but mothers who are online and likely to come across it. And why the ‘mommy bloggers’ weren’t part of the J&J strategy to start with was…well…so…atavistic. Maybe like testing television ads in the 1950s with radio audiences. Using monolithic racial and ethnic models in ads in the 1970s. And do not overlook the fact that the J&J ad was suppose to be humorous. Yes, trying to make things appear fun and use humor can be as tricky as when to use fear appeals in campaigns.
How do we help organizations move into the new media space when they can quickly latch onto these types of stories as another reason ‘why not?’ Coincidentally, or not, The Wall Street Journal [subscription needed for access to entire article online] today tells the story of a new type of collaboration between P&G (the iconoclastic consumer marketing organization) and Google, one that involves an employee exchange program. About 2 dozen employees are sitting in on the other’s training and strategy meetings, learning the culture in ways that will (hopefully for Google) lead P&G to invest more ad dollars in online media where they are well behind the curve among major brands spending an estimated 2% of their marketing budget for online, and (hopefully for P&G) enhances their marketing to younger consumers and helps them avoid the pitfalls and be as smart about online marketing as they are about the rest of it.
As the two companies started working together, the gulf between them quickly became apparent. In April, when actress Salma Hayek unveiled an ambitious promotion for P&G's Pampers brand, the Google team was stunned to learn that Pampers hadn't invited any "motherhood" bloggers -- women who run popular Web sites about child-rearing -- to attend the press conference.
"Where are the bloggers?" asked a Google staffer in disbelief, according one person present.
Later in the story we learn that P&G eventually did invite a group of bloggers to their baby division in Cincinnati for a tour and meetings with executives. The results, claim the bloggers, was between 100,000 – 6,000,000 visitors to their Web sites.
In a video documenting these meetings, Pampers spokesman Bryan McCleary says, This is a very different type of communication than what Procter & Gamble is used to … [The bloggers] don't like advertising. What they do like are exciting stories ... and those things actually can become word-of-mouth advertising, if done in the right way.
Among some other stories: the discovery that searches with the word ‘coupons’ are up 50% in the past year; trying a spoof video contest of P&Gs Talking Stain ad (with some controls in place, but still a radical experiment in consumer-generated content); and learning about their common philosophy for in-store and online ads. And then there where the eye-openers for Google staff:
P&G employees gasped in surprise during a Tide brand meeting when a Google job-swapper apparently didn't realize that Tide's signature orange-colored packaging is a key part of the brand's image (do not mess with the colors of a $2.5 billion brand).
SO what is the takeaway here? Well, organizations have a right to, and certainly have anecdotal evidence to support, being cautious about excursions into the new media space. Yet, with changing demographics and media usage patterns, you also have a responsibility to explore, experiment and engage with new media. And maybe the right way to do this is not the old way of hiring agencies, having meetings, exchanging documents, and having more meetings. Maybe the P&G/Google model is correct: work side-by-side in each other’s natural habitat and learn how the cultures need to adapt to the new technology – not simply how to adapt the tools. Then you can produce work that meets and even exceeds the expectations of people. As I have said before, it is not about using new technology, it is about new ways to use technology. The old way of talking at people may be comfortable, but check in with J&J and others to see if it still works.
And for the managers in some of these organizations who may need some inspiration - Who says elephants can't dance?
[Image from lynetter - People are DOING things on social networking sites.]