Stereotype relief, not just pain relief

Motrin ads cause a huge headache.

Published November 17, 2008 7:47PM (EST)

You know you're late to blogging about a new wave of consumer outrage when the corporation in question has already apologized by the time you post about it. Nevertheless, have you heard about the Motrin thing? Marketers for the pain reliever recently released a promotional video online in hopes that it would go viral, which it did -- for all the wrong reasons.

The ad, aimed at new mothers, starts off with the words, "Wearing your baby seems to be in fashion," and right there, I'm like, "Uh-oh." I get where they were going with that -- you see a hell of a lot more baby slings today than you did 10 years ago -- but holy cow, what were they thinking, casting a parenting decision as a fashion trend? Unless it was "Let's see how many angry e-mails we can get by Monday," that was an epic fail, as the kids say. The video goes downhill from there, saying that baby slings "put a ton of strain on your back, your neck, your shoulders" (that's why you need Motrin), but it's worth it because "it totally makes [you] look like an official mom." Oh, sweet Jesus, are you kidding me? I'm not even a mother, and I know that if you've wrapped the sling correctly, it shouldn't cause pain (theoretically, anyway). Furthermore, it's been my observation that baby-wearing mothers are far less concerned with "looking like an official mom" than getting the kid from point A to point B safely and conveniently; I've never heard one fret that she might be mistaken for the nanny if she uses a stroller.

So the Internet -- in particular a bunch of moms on Twitter -- flipped out over the weekend, and by this morning, Kathy Widmer, V.P. of Marketing for McNeil Consumer Healthcare, had apologized both on the Motrin Web site and in a statement sent to Forbes. Motrin is pulling the ad everywhere possible, though a print version is already on newsstands in some magazines. I'm really impressed by that move, both because the company legitimately screwed up and because taking a prompt, decisive action to stem the online furor shows that the Motrin folks understand how important it is to be responsive to consumer feedback in the Internet age. I didn't even get a chance to write my, "Wow, what a bunch of jerks!" post before Widmer had apologized in a distinctly non-jerky way. Well played, Ms. Widmer.

I'm still not thrilled, though, with Motrin's whole "we feel your lady pain" campaign, which includes bus shelter ads that lament the physical effects of wearing high heels, carrying purses and lifting strollers. I'm no bodybuilder, but I can actually wrangle a baby and a handbag at the same time without reaching for painkillers, and if a pair of shoes puts me in so much pain I need drugs, I give them to Goodwill. Women experience a whole lot of aches and pains that don't have anything to do with us being weaklings or too frivolous to quit doing stuff that hurts, and I'd become a Motrin customer for life if they came up with a clever ad that actually reflected that. Something like, "Worn-out gender stereotypes making your temples throb? We feel your pain!"


By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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