Answering my own questions since 2001

Mommy Bloggers Find Tempest in Motrin’s Teacup

Today I read on Mathew’s site about how mommy bloggers are up in arms over a (beautifully designed, incidentally) Motrin commercial. Here it is:

The righteous indignation is pretty thick. Amy Gates characterized it as an attack on ‘babywearing’ (a term I hadn’t heard before). Jennifer says the ad “is offensive and extremely disrespectful to moms”. And, as you’d expect, there’s plenty of chatter on Twitter.

After watching the ad twice, I can’t understand what all the fuss is about. Is the problem that Motrin suggests that carrying a child in some kind of wearable attachment might result in pain? That seems like a legitimate possibility. If a backpack or shoulder bag hurts your back, then why wouldn’t carrying a kid?

Is there some massive anti-baby-wearing conspiracy that I don’t know about? Are the nation’s pram-makers secretly funding anti-sling propaganda?

I’ve also read a lot of criticism of the ad’s thesis that “wearing your baby seems to be in fashion”. That sounds accurate to me. Every celebrity magazine I see at the grocery store features famous women and their babies. Frequently the celebs are ‘wearing’ their baby. If these magazines reflect current trend, then it’s fair to say that “wearing your baby seems to be in fashion”. Let me put this question to my older readers: is baby-wearing more popular today than it was twenty or thirty years ago?

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The whole thing strikes me as a heated over-reaction to a totally ordinary advertisement. The rage from the mommy blogosphere implies that no mother ever suffered any pain from wearing her baby, and that the very notion is somehow abhorrent. When I compare this with the recent breast-feeding plus H&M issue, it pales in comparison along any axis.

Importantly, the ad doesn’t advocate a particular approach to child-rearing. It just says “hey, if your back hurts from wearing your kid, try our painkiller.” What am I missing?

In any case, it could make a nice fresh case study for the book we’re writing. We have a pending chapter tentatively entitled “Damage Control”.

UPDATE: Motrin posted an apology (direct link to the image) and promised to pull the ad. I’d excerpt it here, but it was posted as an image, not text. On the other hand, the image file is called ‘marketing_message.jpg’. If they had gone with text, that message might reach more people.

UPDATE #2: Here’s Seth’s take on Motrin’s response. He thinks it’s a “carefully crafted non-statement of a committee”.

UPDATE #3: Refreshingly, the Queen of Spain says “what happened this weekend went from smart, powerful activism to Palin-rally lynch-mob.”

UPDATE #4: I don’t think it’s very funny, but technically speaking here’s an excellent takeoff on the Motrin ad (thanks to James):

25 Responses to “Mommy Bloggers Find Tempest in Motrin’s Teacup”

  1. Sue

    I heard about this tempest originally from Her Bad Mother, one of the two mommybloggers I bother to read. She’s got a pretty good take on it. What I mentioned in her comments is that the ad pisses me off for a different reason – the voice-over in the ad sounds like some incredibly well-rested airheaded college co-ed, not somebody who has recently suffered sleep deprivation and may have once or twice inadvertently used Penaten diaper cream instead of hair product.

    It’s just completely unrealistic, that’s what bugs me. Babywearing is definitely fashionable – and that’s a GOOD thing. We should be so lucky to have other things “in fashion” – like natural birth instead of C-sections, or having a TV-free house when you’ve got kids under 2. These bloggers seem to be upset that Motrin might be suggesting they’re on a bandwagon – but what the heck is wrong with bandwagons? Are kids suffering because their mothers’ motives for babywearing are driven by peer pressure and sling-envy rather than sheer brilliance and instinct? PFFFT.

    Babywearing is good. More people should do it. I’ll take good things any way I can get them.

  2. Donna

    Well, I’m no mom (babywearing or otherwise) but I can definitely see how someone who DID feel strongly about babywearing would find that offensive.

    It’s not the idea that “hey, wearing your kid can hurt your back” … it’s the terribly condescending tone they use in regards to wearing kids. It seems to me like it’s aimed more at people who DON’T wear their kids, and who are rather derisive towards those who do.

    The idea that people only wear their babies because it’s fashionable is pretty negative, too. The reasons most people wear their babies have more to do with research showing that it’s a good idea, not so that you “look like a mom”.

  3. Davin

    I think moms are good at “being offended,” and have no problem attacking anything that might rattle the mom-ego. Am I right? Later, skater.

    PS: Thought I saw you downtown today, but it’s been years and the guy looked taller than I remember you. So I didn’t take my ear buds out, but there it is. If it was you, I owe you a hello. Hello!

  4. Andrew Ferguson

    I second Davin’s opinion and append it with this;

    Mommybloggers are the single most irrelevant and drama-prone subculture on the Internet. Of course they’d go batshit over something like this.

  5. Mike

    My wife and I are expecting our first kids (twins) and the subject of baby-wearing has come up a couple times.

    It’s *definitely* fashionable right now. Take a stroll through Kits or Yaletown on a Saturday morning to see this seasons’ favourite styles of wearable Baby!

    It makes sense though – aside from the bonding experience, it saves wear & tear on the $900 Bugaboo stroller they bought (which is also quite fashionable).

  6. David S.

    Let me add my voice to the “get over it” chorus.

    Sometimes wearing a baby hurts.
    Motrin is one pain-relieving solution.
    End of story.

    As for the voiceover artist sounding like a “well-rested airheaded college co-ed,” now THAT’s condescending. There’s no ad agency in the world that would produce that with a voice that sounds in pain. Besides, would that not be even more offensive? Would mommybloggers not get up in arms (no pun intended) because the narrator implies baby-wearing is always painful.

    But more importantly, the group-think that emerged around this (on a weekend, when a lot of mommybloggers are at home, hence the huge pickup on this) — groupthink that is regurgitated here — is that the ad implies babywearing is bad.

    Watch the ad again. It says, nor implies, any such thing.

    Mommy-bloggers and those who are so “offended” by this need to get over themselves. And get a hobby.

  7. Todd Sieling

    How dare anyone suggest that ergonomics be considered when a baby-related fad is in full swing. I’m personally all for baby-wearing, as it reduces the number of SUV-style strollers that clog the aisles, tables and sidewalks, not to mention the disdainful looks of ‘oh fine I’ll move my precious if you insist on existing here’. Note: I live in Kits, where having babies is very much in vogue. We even have a store that protects babies from finding themselves catastrophically out of fashion: http://hipbaby.com

  8. bz

    Mombloggers are an interesting lot. You cannot find anything wrong in their methods, else you are subjected to their madness.

    Here’s the deal: moms love their kids. They want to snuggle with them. Baby bjorns and the like are handy to free your arms to rake leaves, do dishes, shop, eat, whatever while at the same time snuggling your kid.

    If worn properly, these are all pretty ergo friendly and dont hurt.

    To say that moms are slaves to fashion and trends over being loving to their children is the crime here.

    Motrin is accusing moms of being trendhunters over being caregivers.

    And hell hath no fury like a mommyblogger scorned.

    Rob Cottingham Reply:

    I think bz nails the issue with this: “To say that moms are slaves to fashion and trends over being loving to their children is the crime here.”

    This is an ad that actually might have gone over well, if they hadn’t gotten off so spectacularly on the wrong foot with the word “fashionable”.

    It trivializes something that is, for a lot of people, the hardest and most painful work they’ll ever do – and involves difficult choices pretty much every day, from how you’ll get baby from point A to point B with a crapload of groceries and a diaper bag (that’s where the SUV-sized stroller comes in) to how you’ll pay for new shoes for your toddler instead of making them eke out another month in that now-a-little-too-small pair. (Not every parent can afford to shop at hipbaby or Crocodile. Most, in fact, can’t.)

    There is SO much marketing out there telling parents, especially moms, that they aren’t doing enough and what they are doing, they aren’t doing right. Or nutritiously enough. Or with enough love and care and attention. Motrin was this close to an ad that empathized with moms and offered a little support instead.

    Instead, that little bit of flippancy pushed the ad in entirely the wrong direction.

    Rob Cottingham Reply:

    Just a correction: “in fashion”, not “fashionable”.

  9. darren

    @bz: Importantly, they didn’t say that “moms are slaves to fashion and trend”. They said the baby-wearing “seems to be fashionable”. Which, as I’ve established and others corroborate, is accurate.

    Plus, it’s inaccurate to claim that mothers aren’t influenced by fashion and trend. They are as much as any other group of consumers.

    @Rob: You’re quite right. Remove the opening phrase from this ad, and you probably avoid this overwrought firestorm. Here’s what I’ve been wondering about: don’t they have focus groups specifically to avoid this particular issue?

  10. Tom

    “Wearing your baby seems to be in fashion.”

    This is the setup. It’s intended to be controversial. It gets your attention.

    Everything in the ad rests on this opening statement. The whole point of the ad is to challenge this wisdom of “wearing your baby.”

    It wouldn’t have worked as well with, say, something like:

    “Wearing your baby seems to be catching on.”

    You know, it’s ok to disagree with ads. We’re allowed to be offended by them. (I still fly into a rage when I see this Brita ad that equates flushing your toilet with drinking tap water:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRQls4ot3l4) which I think is much more ethically repugnant than the Motrin message.

    The fact that mommybloggers expressed their anger over this ad is a good thing. People should debate commercials more often. Why no one from the company tried to explain the rationale of the ad…well my guess is that they looked at the value of defending the ad vs. cutting their losses and decided that the bad publicity from the ad outweighed the good.

    But I wonder if there’s a Motrin exec sitting in an office somewhere high-fiving his ad agency exec.

  11. melanie watts

    What I don’t like about this ad is its stupid patronizing and what Rob describes as “flippant” tone. The ad lumps all women who are mothers into the same dumb down category, desperately trying to practice the latest trend in child rearing but at the same time scared they themselves will be submerged by the mother label. Do young women really lack that much confidence? I hope not. I carried my very young babies in a front sling and my older babies in a backpack because it kept them quiet, sanity and left my arms free to do other things. I do not remember having any back pain.

  12. Marketing Mommy

    The problem with the ad was its tone. It reduced a mother’s decision to carry her baby to one of fashion, which for many of us it pointed is NOT. We carry our kids for lots of reasons: it’s convenient, it’s soothing and, for some, it reflects a commitment to Attachment Parenting.

  13. Linda Ferguson

    Wow – was I twenty years ahead of my time? I carried my (large) babies in slings and now they are large, graceful, lovely young men. That was – not coincidentally – what I expected from the baby carrying. And my husband wore the babies as often as I did.

    So – have the times changed so much that only mothers now carry babies and they carry them only so they will look good while they are out? And are there no mothers working at Motrin who could suggest better reasons for moms to use pain relievers?

  14. stephanie vacher

    I nearly wrote ten different replies to your post but nothing intelligent comes to mind, maybe because this kind of idiocy doesn’t really deserve an intelligent response in the first place.

    If I ever become a mom, I hope I don’t become a stupid mom.

  15. Lisa

    I’m not a mom, but I get back pain from just slinging my radio kit over my shoulder, so I was all ready to agree with Darren’s take.

    Then I watched the ad…
    Snarky! Annoying. I’d change the channel.

    Lisa

  16. Jonas Grumby

    I think the mommybloggers are crying and whining like…children.

  17. Jordan

    Wait…can baby-wearing dads comment?

    I agree with Rob and bz, that it’s the flippant tone of the piece that’s offensive. And make no mistake, it is offensive. I disagree that it’s just the opening sentence that needs to be called into question. I wrote a post too; my apologies for not using the trackback link. I left the link in my signature.

    Oh and Mr. Sieling? You know I think you’re a great guy, but if I ever see you in the grocery store, I’m running over your foot with my stroller. Unless of course you don’t mind carrying my 20lb kid while I shop…

  18. Derek K. Miller

    I think the ad sucks, and I understand why people are upset about it, and why Motrin has pulled it.

    I’m a dad who used a front-pack with both my kids, then a backpack when they got older. And prams and strollers. Each has its use in different circumstances, but the front-pack is especially good when they’re infants and it’s cold. And it’s also wonderfully snuggly. When fitted properly, I didn’t fit it hurt my back either. (Get one with a hip belt if it does, perhaps.)

    But the ad is bothersome, and while the Internet has amplified the reaction, I agree with those who dislike it. “SUPPOSEDLY it’s a real bonding experience.” “It totally makes me look like AN OFFICIAL MOM.” — those lines made me wince, even before I knew others were pissed off about them.

    Oddly, it reminded me of the condescending tone taken toward women by the male ad execs in “Mad Men,” only updated to 21st-century condescension.

    Motrin were indeed very close to creating a sly and understanding ad with the overall approach, but the attitude and wording completely blew it, right from the first line. And I bet a bunch of people are buying Advil now.

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