Motrin Makers Pull Controversial Babywearing Ad

By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The makers of Motrin, trying to appeal to hip, young moms with an ad that likened babywearing to a fashion statement, yesterday responded to outraged mothers by pulling the ad and apologizing for it.

Starting on Saturday, parents across the country took to blogs, the online video site YouTube, and social networking tools such as Twitter to complain about the online and print ad, which touted the pain reliever as a treatment for backaches caused by infant carriers.

The Motrin ad consisted only of words, graphics, and the knowing voice of an apparent first-time mom.

"Wearing your baby seems to be in fashion. I mean, in theory, it's a great idea . . . supposedly, it's a real bonding experience," the voiceover said. "They say that babies carried close to the body tend to cry less than others. But what about me? Do moms who wear their babies cry more than those who don't? I sure do. These things put a ton of strain on your back."

Calls for a boycott quickly followed. By Sunday evening, the digital tsunami of protest forced the drug's maker, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a division of Johnson and Johnson based in Fort Washington, Pa., to remove the ad from its Web site and post a statement.

"With regard to the recent Motrin advertisement, we have heard you . . . please accept our sincere apology," reads the message signed by Kathy Widmer, the company's vice president of marketing.

A print version of the ad still appears in Lucky, a women's fashion magazine that is already on newsstands. And it's too late to pull the ad from upcoming issues of Nylon and Cookie magazines, McNeil spokesman Marc Boston said yesterday.

The controversial ad, which debuted online Sept. 30, was part of a marketing campaign called "We Feel Your Pain," and tried to stand out from a well-worn genre of painkiller ads that feature moms in various back-breaking tableaus such as lugging groceries, hoisting a child, or picking up toys.

The ad was developed in-house with the help of an outside agency, Boston said, adding that he would not comment further.

The critical storm hit just in time for International Babywearing Week, which began Nov. 12 and ends today.

Some parents didn't get what all the hubbub was about. In a blog entry titled "Why So Upset? Maybe Someone Needs a Motrin," Alexis Martin Neely, a family legal expert based in the Los Angeles area and a self-described "baby-wearing mom," wrote: "I could see how some good intentioned marketing team thought they were sympathizing with moms and laughing with us, not at us."

But chatter about the Motrin ad on Twitter over the weekend was overwhelmingly negative. And as of yesterday evening, 821 people had joined a page on the social networking site Facebook titled "Babywearing isn't painful. Boycott Motrin for saying it is."

Some parents and physicians criticized the ad as inaccurate and misleading.

When worn properly, baby carriers are no more painful than holding a child, some doctors said. Baby carrier use is supported by many pediatricians, including William Sears and Harvey Karp, who are authors of well-known child rearing books.

Research, which grew out of studies of premature infants in hospital settings, has also shown that increased contact between newborns and their mothers can reduce crying and help an infant sleep better. A 1986 study by Canadian researchers published in the journal Pediatrics concluded that using a baby carrier was beneficial to infants.

"It's not a matter of making a fashion statement but meeting our babies' needs," said Maria Blois, the Dallas-based author of ''Babywearing: The Benefits and Beauty of This Ancient Tradition.''

Karen Krueger, a spokeswoman for Takoma Attachment Parenting, a Takoma Park group, said the ad was a case of McNeil executives "reaching a tad too far to come up with a hip, edgy way of selling Motrin."

One irate mother addressing Motrin marketers in a YouTube video put it another way: "My headaches have nothing to do with wearing my baby," she said. "My headache right now was caused by you."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company