Viral marketing: panacea and pain

In SERM, Social Media by Marius Badenhorst

Viral marketing is tricky because it is by nature unpredictable. You can create the most expensive viral ad in the world ever complete with A-list celebs and a rocking soundtrack, promote it in all the right channels and still have it flop. Or, you can slap something together with no resources, send it to a friend and have an international phenomenon on your hands. Going unnoticed is bad but a badly misjudged campaign that results in plethora of hate is worse.

Just ask Motrin, pain management specialists. In 2008, Motrin launched a print and video viral campaign that, I assume, was supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek solution for the headaches and back pain that plagues many mothers. Unfortunately, the ad was in incredibly bad taste, it alleged that babies are fashion accessories, and claimed that carrying babies may be bonding but that while babies cried less, mom’s cried more. In my opinion, the most damage was done at the end, when the mommy narrator said that carrying her baby was bearable because it was a ‘good’ pain and that it made her look like an official mom, and that when she looks tired and crazy ‘people will understand why’. (see the video here)

Motrin Print Ad

Motrin Print Ad

The reasons why the campaign bombed are as numerous as they obvious. In fact, it was obviously doomed to fail from the start, which makes you wonder how it got passed the approval board. For a start, Motrin had no clue about their target audience. If they did they would have known never to refer to mothering styles as fashionable and that there is no such thing as an ‘official looking mom’. In fact, to allege that by not following mom fashion trends mom run the risk of appearing ‘unofficial’ is so insulting as to border on blasphemy.

Not surprisingly, the campaign elicited a barrage of complaints and retaliatory videos on YouTube, not to mention the Twitter backlash. One mother summed it up accurately:

“You know, you’d think that a big company like Motrin, would, I don’t know do some research before launching a new ad campaign. You’d think that with all the money they have that they would actually put some of it into finding out what their target market is and not piss off the Mommies that they disrespected so.” Prarie Momma

The video even had the dubious distinction of being spoofed – boob implants and associated back pain leaving you looking nothing like a mom (it’s pretty funny). Not surprisingly, Motrin pulled the ad and apologised for their crass insensitivity, although they didn’t phrase it quite like that.

Motrin Apology

Mozilla, who really should have known better, also managed to muck up a campaign that was supposed to set Firefox up as preferable to Internet Explorer. Called “Firefox Users against Boredom”, the video campaign is saturated with bad taste, starting with the spoofy sing-along on the lines of the save-the-world-save-the-children campaigns by collective musos to the statistics that crawl at the bottom of the screen. Some stats were relatively harmless: firefox users are 67% more likely to go mountain biking and 21% less likely to fish. But others are plain insulting: firefox users are 51% less likely to be accountants and 16% less likely to have fungal infections. And then there are the insensitive stats: firefox users are 40% less likely to be widowed, 23% less likely to have cancer and 20% less likely to live with cancer sufferers.

Apparently the campaign was released before it was approved, which at best means that Mozilla is as careless as it is dumb. Mozilla’s vice-president of marketing, Paul Kim, apologised for the campaign saying that they hadn’t reviewed the stats before they were accidentally published and that they recognised that some of the stats were in poor taste and humour and didn’t reflect Mozilla’s views.

In an article on, Kim is cited as saying, “Something went seriously wrong with our content development process, and I’m working to clean this up now.” Kim said that the site and the list were supposed to be locked behind a password until they had been checked and approved. He added, “Regardless of these issues on our end, the main thing is to say that I take responsibility for the situation, and again, apologize to anyone who was upset by this.”

Except that not everyone is happy with the apology, as this comment on TechCrunch shows:

“Frankly, the excuse doesn’t even make sense. Saying that it was not meant to be ‘publicly available’ makes it seem as if these comments are only acceptable as a private joke at Mozilla. Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion, and if something like this came from Microsoft, you’d go absolutely crazy.”

Lastly, we have Toyota’s YourOtherYou viral campaign which was designed to let consumers prank their friends. Unfortunately the prank involved convincing unsuspecting victims that they were being stalked and, as we all know, stalking is subject to be taken lightly. Toyota used details provided by pranksters to subject victims to “a series of dynamically personalised phone calls, texts, emails and videos.”

First, if you have a friend that would do this to you, cross them off your Christmas list and alert the police – seriously. Then put all thoughts of ever buying a Toyota out of your mind, because a company that treats your psyche so callously is hardly likely to give your physical safety much thought.

There is a school of thought, and it’s quite popular, that there is no such thing as a bad viral campaign as the purpose of viral is to draw attention to brand and get people talking. In that sense, all the campaigns above are a resounding success, as for me, I’d rather have my campaign go unnoticed that cause innocent people sleepless nights as they anticipate coming home to a boiled rabbit and enraged psychopath.

About the Author

Marius Badenhorst