Category Archives: Chicago Tribune


Step on a Crack, Break Your Mother’s Motrin

Note sure if this title dates me. When I was a child it there was an expression we said to each other, “step on a crack, break your mother’s back.” The idea was that you would avoid stepping on cracks in the concrete, otherwise it would hurt your mom. Something like sticking pins in voodoo dolls, I guess.

This week the Chicago Tribune carried a story called “Company caves to moms’ Motrin ad backlash.” The story includes a link to the commercial for Motrin, which says in way too words that mothers who carry their babies somewhere on their bodies will get back pains. And Motrin will fix the problem. Here’s some copy from the story to put my post in context:

“Offend mommy bloggers at your own peril. They can chew you up and spit you out in a day. That’s what happened to McNeil Consumer Healthcare’s new ad campaign for Motrin. Saturday morning, all was fine. By Monday, a contrite McNeil had yanked the campaign and its vice president of marketing was busy issuing apologies.The offense? An online ad aimed at moms who, the ad surmised, might need Motrin to ease back pain caused by using slings and such to carry their babies.”

This is a funny public relations backlash (pun intended) because first, the commercial is stupid. It goes on and on explaining the justification for pushing Motrin onto women. Second, it shows the downside of advertising in combination with the downward spiral of negative publicity. Let me explain.

As all the marketing gurus will tell you, advertising is about pushing information onto people. Public relations is usually getting a third-party source to say you are wonderful . In the case of Motrin, the third-party sources said that Motrin offended mothers. Advertisers can show how their product solves a problem. However, researching that problem first, can give clues into what might backfire (I did it again).

In this case, Motrin could have done a better job of setting this up. If they had some parenting authority say that research shows that moms that carry their baby on their backs are more prone to back pain, then maybe, just maybe, they could make the argument that Motrin could help. It’s the type of self serving attitude that has worked in the past before the Internet. I remember when I was a child that toothpaste commercials pushed the fact the fluoride in toothpaste prevented cavities based on dentists’ recommendations. So, at least putting a toxic chemical in your mouth made sense.

Some well intended commercials have missed the mark many times and public relations campaigns can miss their objectives too. However, maybe in this case, thinking about the intended audience first and doing some research could have gotten this back on the right track. (I never knew there could be so much potential for puns with the word “back”.)


Can You Spare a Dior and Some Political Correctness?

In last Friday’s Chicago Tribune I saw a story on page three with the headline: Buddy, can you spare a Dior? The reporter wrote in a sarcastic style and poked fun at Barneys Co-Op. Barneys, a clothing store, placed homeless-style cardboard signs in the hands of its mannequins that read: “DIOR-less please help,” “Will work 4 PRORSUM” and “Stranded need RAF to get home.” For those of you who know my middle class fashion sense, it was nice to learn about some other high end fashion such as RAF and PRORSUM.
I shared this media coverage with the staff because it did have something brilliant behind it. After all, it was a page three story (glad to see the Tribune’s new tabloid format is working out great). My point to my team was that about 25 cents of cardboard and a black marker got this store thousands of dollars worth of publicity.

It also make me curious to find out how this publicity came about. What someone at the store told me was that their visual designers came up with the idea and it got out to the media through word of mouth. Ironically when I spoke to someone else at the store’s New York headquarters, I learned that the publicity backfired because Tribune readers thought it was insensitive to the plight of the homeless.

First, I see the negative backlash as political correctness run amuck. Look at how the media is riping apart Sarah Palin’s wardrobe and I’ve not seem an outcry from that coverage. Second, the Tribune added a survey to the story that asked readers, “What do you think of the display?” Not one of the options in the survey said that this was a cleaver and creative way to to get customers’ attention.

The PR laugh for me is that the Tribune gives such a trivial soft news item a prominent position that belongs with the Paris Hilton coverage. To me that should have the outrage from readers.

The New Chicago Tribune Sucks

I guess some people might question the word “sucks” in the headline. It doesn’t fit the polite language that a PR person would use when describing a major media outlet. Stay with for a moment.

I think the Huffington Post captured the issue even before it was released this week when it wrote about how the new Tribune was “Less news, more pictures.” I’ve heard this referred to as the “USA Today syndrome” where substancial local papers provide article with little or no depth.

For years I’ve had great relationships with many fine reporters and editors at the Tribune. I am sure many of them (those who are still left) are not happy with the changes. Besides, it’s not just about content. It’s also about design.

First, the visual guide along the top of the page which tells you where you is well, stupid. I know where I am in the the new muddle of chopped up graphics and short stories. Second, the layout emphasis the advertising in way that is distracting and I believe hurts the advertiser.

The bottom line is that sales of the print edition will continue to decline because of new media and the all the options people have for getting the news they choose.