Motrin Versus The Moms: When Painkillers Are Attacked, Everybody Loses

November 16, 2008

It’s possible that you haven’t seen or heard about MotrinGate, but I’ll wager that if you haven’t, it’s because you have enough of a life to not be reading blogs or compulsively checking Twitter on a weekend. If you haven’t heard about it – and you aren’t interested in going to Twitter and typing #motrinmoms into the search box, at which point you will be exposed to a digital outpouring of maternal outrage the likes of which you have not seen since, oh, the last breastfeeding scandal or the Great Mommy War Debates, Parts I through XIteen, and so on – here’s the story: Motrin posted an ad on their website that suggests, none too elegantly, that moms who wear their babies a) are conformist sheep-moms who only wear their babies in order to demonstrate that they’re “official moms” (dick fingers implied), and b) need Motrin to help with the pain caused by all that silly babywearing. Because babies are the new Manolos, and are just as likely to cause you crippling pain.

(I’ve posted the video of the ad below, in case you’re dying to see what the fuss is about. You might also check out their ad for children’s Motrin, which implies, with insufficient subtlety, that if you’re not getting enough sleep, you might want to consider drugging your kids up. You know, with Motrin.)

Of course, the ad is stupid, and deserving of the scorn that has been heaped upon it. But I’m not sure that it’s worthy of the scale of outrage that I’m seeing. Which may make me unpopular for the three or four days that this scandal burns its swath across the Internetverse, but so be it.

What’s stupid about the ad, obviously, is that it belittles a standard practice of motherhood: carrying one’s baby. The suggestion – again, complete with implied dick fingers – that women “endure” babywearing just so that they’ll “fit in” with other moms is stupid and offensive. I wore my babies – sometimes with slings, sometimes with Bjorns, sometimes just freestyle – because I could not possibly have had (or have) a life without doing so. Especially with the second, the six-month old who I carry constantly: he loathes being put down, and so my ability to move about the world freely requires that I bind him to my body in some fashion – with fabric, duct tape, or just an old-fashioned curve of the arm – or endure high-pitched shrieking. I don’t do this to prove my mommy bona fides. I’ve got ample scars that prove my mommy bona fides, not to mention a wardrobe of spit and shit-stained clothing, a muffin-top, a short temper and an inability to concentrate on any conversation that doesn’t reference potty training or preschooler discipline techniques. These get the point across, I think. I’m so obviously a mom that I’m surprised that random children don’t just follow me home from the park. I am EVERYMOM.

But I’m also, in my capacity as a mom, plagued by backaches and neckaches and stiff shoulders and all manner of discomfort related to the toll of days spent packing anywhere from 23 to 60 lbs of kidmeat around on my person,* not to mention the constant crouching and bending and lifting and bending and hoisting and crouching and bending and lifting etc etc etc that comes with the endless cycle of diaper changing and toilet training and shoelace-tying and buckle-fastening and binky-fetching and all the other back-breaking little tasks that are part of motherwork. That shit burns you out, people. It’s hard work, and it leaves you sore. It leaves me sore. So the idea that someone might pitch painkillers to my particular demographic isn’t really outrageous. Hell, the Motrin people could get together with the Smirnoff’s Vodka people and maybe even the Xanax/Ativan people and do a whole collaborative marketing juggernaut aimed at tired/sore/anxiety-ridden moms and I’d probably just roll my eyes and make a note on my calendar to renew some prescriptions and restock the liquor cabinet. So, no, I don’t think that the substance of the Motrin campaign is all that worthy of controversy.

It’s their delivery that sucked butt, for the reasons I explained above. If you’re trying to win over a market, you should maybe try to avoid insulting that market. But we – the quote-unquote market that they’ve insulted – need to be clear on what exactly it is that we find insulting. The suggestion that packing our kids around might cause a backache or two is not insulting (nor is it particularly damaging, as I’ve seen some suggest, to the practice of babywearing. Knowing that carrying a baby might cause some shoulder pain won’t stop any reasonable parent from babywearing. Knowing that childbirth is painful hasn’t stopped women from giving birth, has it?) The suggestion that babywearing is some kind of Stepford Mom conformity exercise is insulting, and it’s worth protesting.

But let’s keep our focus on the real problems here. The marketing of a painkiller to moms is not a problem. The suggestion (the appalling suggestion) that some or any of the practices of motherhood that might cause mothers to reach for a painkiller are in and of themselves stupid or risible or of dubious merit is a problem, because it makes a mockery of the work of motherhood and so makes a mockery of mothers. It demonstrates that advertisers are still unwilling, for the most part, to consider mothers as anything other than stereotypes: frazzled mom, harried mom, lonely mom, overwhelmed mom. These stereotypes have force because the life of a mom involves all of the components of those stereotypes – I am frazzled and overwhelmed and I will say here, frankly, that I have said to myself on more than one occasion, why the f*$# am I carrying this baby around every minute of every day oh my aching hell – but they become dangerous when they become the sole lens through which moms are viewed.

The only way to fight it is by reminding the culture that we are complex. We are not frazzled harridans griping about pain, but nor are we simply beatific nurturers whose deepest joy and pleasure is derived from carrying babies – light as farts with angel wings – against our ever-trilling mama-hearts. We need to keep broadcasting to the world that we defy simple characterization. Which means tempering our outrage with humor, and tempering our rebuttals with honesty: I’m a mom who wears my baby – and loves it but also sometimes doesn’t love it all that much and on those days maybe takes a painkiller or two or maybe just a hot bath and a martini – and I did not approve of that Motrin ad.

Now, somebody pass me the vodka.

*I know that babywearing doesn’t cause everyone discomfort. And I’ve heard it said a thousand times that if you’re doing it right, it doesn’t hurt. FINE. I’ve also heard the very same thing said about breastfeeding, and it’s just not true. Packing my kids around all day puts a strain on my body. Sometimes that strain is painful. Please do not tell me that I’m doing it wrong. It’s my babywearing and I’ll say that it’s sometimes painful if I want to.

** The ad was removed from the Motrin site while I was drafting this post. Behold the power of the momosphere!

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    Moxie November 16, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    Hey, I just posted about this, but I didn’t even know there was a video ad. I saw a print ad in my Lucky Magazine, and got all pissed off about that. Those print ads will live on forever, so your post is not obsolete.

    Please go comment and trackback to my post, because yours is a good one (even if the whole point of my post is that wearing your baby shouldn’t hurt enough to make you need OTC meds. But if it does, take Advil.).


    Immoral Matriarch November 16, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    I’m glad they removed it. They should have ran it past a panel of moms in the first place to ensure they didn’t offend anyone. Idiots.

    I was babywearing with the birth of my first, in 2003, long before the slings and maya wraps were mainstream – when only Baby Bjorns were sold in Toys R’Us, when people would look at me and my long organic wrap like I must have been some sort of convent escaped Jesus freak.

    It was integral part of my parenting style with both of my daughters, and I damn sure didn’t do it to be cool. I definitely find it offensive that they’d say that – or that it’s just a fad that renders you tired and crazy looking.

    And my pain was dependent on the type of sling I wore. :)

    Amy M. November 16, 2008 at 11:23 pm

    I try not to get too worked up about this type of thing, I know, this one will go on for another week at least before things calm down. It’s just that, the ad is in such poor taste and that’s just putting it lightly. This was the 2nd time that I have watched the video and it’s in even more poor taste since the first time I watched it this morning. It has such a “mocking” feel to it. At any rate, I’m glad they had enough sense to take it down. I figured they would.

    Amy (aka pagirly on Twitter)

    mothergoosemouse November 16, 2008 at 11:23 pm

    Yes, my mommy bona fides are on embarrassing display whether I’m wearing a sling or not.

    And frankly, I’m the only mom I’ve seen around this place – which bears a striking resemblance to Stepford – who wears my babies in a contraption other than a Bjorn. Which is not because I dislike the Bjorn, but because Kyle called dibs on it 6.5 years ago.

    So the idea that babywearing is perpetuated by peer pressure and the desire to show off mommy-cred is totally bogus.

    And yes, babywearing does pain me now and then, but so does life in general.

    Michelle November 16, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    As usual, you said it best.
    ::gulps down the wine::

    Mom101 November 16, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    I agree that some of the outrage is misplaced. Even so, no one likes to feel mocked. Least of all about the stuff we’re all insecure about anyway.

    Hell, if a babywearing mom had written that ad it would be all “I love baby wearing! Keeps the critter from crying and hides my fat gut. But hell, what I wouldn’t give for a Motrin (and that martini) at the end of the day…”

    I approve your post.

    Jenny November 16, 2008 at 11:28 pm

    I kind of got stuck at the part about the baby being six months old…! Because it seems like that was just last week you posted the story of that crazy delivery!
    And I’m totally in agreement that we all got a leeetle worked up over it – annoyed, mad even, okay…but wow, this?

    ChefSara November 16, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    very well written and i agree completely. i wear my son for many reasons…when i walk the dog in the morning, i need my hands to hold the leash, and don’t want my 80 lb. dog dragging me and a stroller around. and when i’m out and about, wearing him puts much less strain on my back than lugging him around in his car seat. i don’t do it to be cool…besides, if i did, i’m sure i’d need a “cooler” sling or wrap rather than my practical carrier…

    Backpacking Dad November 16, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    This is so 4:30pm.


    Ms. Moon November 16, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    I’ve been toting babies since my baby brothers were born in 1966 and 1967.
    And believe me- I DO need painkillers now. My spine, my hips. Shit. I HAVE to do yoga. It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity.
    But you know what? I’d do it all again. Each and every ounce of all four of my kids and the two baby brothers.
    Because if there’s anything more important than carrying babies next to our bodies, I don’t know what it is.
    But don’t try to direct advertising to me for doing it.
    It’s just life.

    Adventures In Babywearing November 16, 2008 at 11:33 pm

    I agree. Can not wait for it to blow over & it probably already has. I'd love to just be treated like a human and not a market already. It's gotten so old.


    Awake November 16, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    I liked your post – great points. But, I watched the ad…and (crouching) didn’t really find it offensive. Or (hiding behind tree) mocking. Or (and I know this wasn’t your intent, so merely sheltering myself from the angry Twitterers) worth getting riled up about. To each their own battles though.

    Sarah Yost November 16, 2008 at 11:35 pm

    great post!

    Around these parts I’m the only one I know wearing a maya wrap. And thank god I do. The toddler wants the boobie all the time and jesus, if I couldn’t strap her on, particularly in public, I don’t know what I’d do. I would carry her cocked on my hip and need that much more motrin. oy.

    KayleighJeanne November 16, 2008 at 11:40 pm

    Thanks for being honest that sometimes it does hurt. A baby in a sling hurts my back less than a baby in my arms, but it does hurt still. If people agree that having twenty pound breasts post-delivery can hurt your back, why wouldn’t carrying that weight in a sling hurt just a little too?

    Also. I want a martini. I wish they made virgin martinis for pregnant women.

    KD @ A Bit Squirrelly November 16, 2008 at 11:41 pm

    I think you stated it perfectly. Maybe not enough for sheer outrage, but still in very poor taste. I actually made and sold slings and pouches for a while, so I looked into the history of babywearing. It is not a “fad” but really a part of being a mother who in order to function NEEDS to wear her baby.

    Again excellent post.

    Stimey November 16, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    I kinda really wanted to say something to this effect on twitter, but I was afraid I’d be lynched. Yeah, the ad is dumb and belittling, but it’s not the end of the world. I read some tweets about it being the most offensive ad some people have ever seen. If that is the case, I want to live in their world, because I see more offensive ads every day. But I also have to admit that although I did Bjorn my kids, I wasn’t a diehard babywearer, so maybe if this were a really big deal to me, I’d be more upset.

    I think it’s great that the Motrin people paid attention though. Behold the power of the momoverse!

    helenjane November 16, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    I’m confused about the folks that want it both ways — they want the Motrin marketing folks to pay attention to the silliness of their methods, but they also roll their eyes at the “outrage.”

    (Like they’re too cool to care…)

    There aren’t many worthy causes that get results without a little riling up.

    I say bring on the hash tags! The more complaining moms the merrier!

    Dana November 16, 2008 at 11:56 pm

    First, I can’t stop laughing about Backpacking Dad’s comment.

    I think your post is wonderful. I like reading what everyone has to say.

    It’s been years since I carried a baby in a sling, but I agree, the ad was crappy. I’m glad they took it down.

    Her Bad Mother November 17, 2008 at 12:04 am

    helenjane – I’m not rolling my eyes at the outrage, I just think that it needs to be kept in perspective. Motrin needed to be told – LOUDLY – that their ad was offensive, but we don’t need to get carried away about insisting, against the ad, that babywearing/carrying/whatever being a totally comfortable, blissful thing that every mother loves without exception. I hate advertisers reducing us to stereotypes, and I hate *US* reducing ourselves to stereotypes.

    Her Bad Mother November 17, 2008 at 12:05 am

    oh, yeah, and ROTFLAO at Backpacking Dad. As usual.

    April November 17, 2008 at 12:10 am

    posted a comment with nearly the same sentiments expressed here (lacking your eloquence of course). it was a stupid commercial, but mommydom CAN be painful, so target audience? PASS. delivery? FAIL.

    Tootsie Farklepants November 17, 2008 at 12:10 am

    The only thing babywearing has done to me is cause sporadic cases of involuntary side to side rocking.

    Great post!

    Mary November 17, 2008 at 12:20 am

    I have to wonder if some did not use this ridiculous advertising faux pas in an opportunistic way to promote themselves and their own agendas. Just sayin’.

    Motherhood Uncensored November 17, 2008 at 12:25 am

    It was just condescending — we don’t need motrin because we wear our babies, we need motrin because we HAVE babies.

    Big diff.

    Leanne November 17, 2008 at 12:47 am

    I laughed when I saw it. I thought it was sorta cute…weird but cute. Okay, throw stuff at me now.

    Amber P. November 17, 2008 at 12:56 am

    I think you hit the nail on the head. Women do not fit into one stereotype. Whenever that happens, women are outraged. The marketing department needs to read The Soccer Mom Myth by Michele Miller and Holly Buchanan.

    Chandler Pritchett November 17, 2008 at 12:56 am

    The motrin ad seems really closely related visually to another video about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. You (and all the other folks who are pissed at the campaign) might be interested in seeing the two side by side. You can watch them both at the same time on my blog at

    blissfullycaffeinated November 17, 2008 at 1:22 am

    It’s a stupid ad, to be sure. Just the lingo and hip mom talk is irritating. But I can’t see what all the fuss is about. I wore my babies too, and some days I definitely needed some ibuprofen because it is tough on the back and the knees, to run around doing errands and cooking dinner with a baby on your back or hip. I’m just not offended by it. Plus, I always buy generic. I can’t see forking over the bucks just to have the name “Motrin” on the bottle. So, there.

    Susan November 17, 2008 at 2:00 am

    The ad pissed me off, not necessarily because of what it suggested about babywearing, but because the person doing the voice-over sounds like some incredibly well-rested college co-ed, not your average woman who has accidentally on occasion used Penaten diaper cream instead of hair product. Who has the energy to talk that fast? Hell, I barely had the energy to read that fast.

    Anyhow, your post about it nearly made me pee myself laughing, so I suppose some good has come of it. I view the blogosphere’s wrath as something to be amused by anyways.

    Awesome Mom November 17, 2008 at 2:10 am

    Stupid Motrin, if you want your kids to sleep more you use Bebedryl! Lol!

    I did find that wearing my kids did cause some strain, but it was a lot easier on my body than not using a carrier or trying to haul them around in a car carrier.

    helenjane November 17, 2008 at 2:42 am

    No argument here, your post ruled. I didn’t think you were eye rolling — it was the 24 hour backlash I was surprised about. Yay for complicated moms!

    B November 17, 2008 at 2:44 am

    I don’t know. I think all pharmaceutical ads are pretty terrible, why should the folks at Motrin be any different? I think that whole Brooke Sheilds/Volkswagon/Routan Boom thing is much worse as far as outrageous claims against mothers. (I know it’s supposed to be funny, I think it is terrible.)

    Kristy Hall November 17, 2008 at 7:44 am

    Well said. Stupid ad, good product.

    J&J should stick to pitching the product for real Mom uses. After my c-section, I lived for my 600 mg of Motrin every four hours. It also reduced Toddlers 103 fever when Tylenol was shooting blanks.

    Hate to cross the picket line but I gotta have my Motrin.

    Mama Smurf November 17, 2008 at 8:07 am

    I must be WAY out of the mommy loop because I had no idea that baby wearing was “the thing”…

    Sybil Vane November 17, 2008 at 8:44 am

    My kid didnt really like being in a bjorn or a sling, and I didn’t really like messing with them enough to convince her to like it. And surely none of us would pretend that there isn’t, actually, such a thing as a culture of mom one-up-man-ship that very often encompasses the things like babywearing? Many many mommies at the park and in playgroups asked me why I never had Baby V in a sling. With the same looks many of them have now when they asked me if I know where to gt a Bento to pack her lunch in. Or whether we are going to sign up for enrichment classes.
    This ad, to my mind, is speaking to women who have felt the existence of mommy sanctimony, have felt themselves being judged by other mommies, and who can recognize that the trends that inform senses of superiority do shift. The fact of babyweraing being a trend or not is beside the point, although undeniably it is a much more visiblw phenomenon than it was when my mom was carrying a baby.

    Courtney November 17, 2008 at 9:24 am

    I couldnt have put it better! We have the right to be outrages but lets do it in a way that doesnt make us look like the sterotype they are trying to portray us as!

    Her Bad Mother November 17, 2008 at 10:21 am

    Sybil Vane – I agree entirely. I actually think that the fact that they targeted babywearing specifically (as opposed to, say, just carrying your baby around or doing all the bending and lifting that motherwork entails) is evidence that they DID consult a mom or two – only a mom would recognize that there really can be that culture of one-up(wo)manship in motherhood, and that whether one wears a funky sling or a no-name front carrier or doesn’t babywear at all actually CAN have an impact on how one is viewed or fits in at the playground, or at least feel that way.

    But that’s a risky set of issues to just throw in an ad to sell painkillers, and it was handled badly – insultingly badly.

    Kelsey November 17, 2008 at 10:30 am

    Okay, please no one throw rotten tomatoes at me, but I kinda thought it was funny and I liked it *ducking to avoid a tomato*. I thought that it was smart and clever. It was cute! And honestly, for ads that target my demographic, I dislike the Volkswagon one with Brooke Sheilds way more, this one at least seems to be trying to speak to me with understanding for my pain, as opposed to mocking me. Sorry All!

    Leesa Barnes November 17, 2008 at 10:38 am

    The scale of outrage only looks huge because moms know how to use the power of their community to create a reaction. At the end of the day, the Motrin faux pas gave Motrin exactly what it needed – a thrust into the limeline. And isn’t that the result that every PR professional wants for their client? To get everyone talking?

    Chicky Chicky Baby November 17, 2008 at 10:40 am

    I saw the fuss on twitter which led me to view the ad. This is an actual transcript of my reaction.

    “Ooh… Eh, whatever.”

    Translation: I see the reason for the kerfuffle, I do, but the fact remains that it is an advertisement written by yet another Madison Ave. agency who doesn’t get it (which is not to say that all in advertising is clueless, just most) and it should be treated as a pesky gnat and swatted away with a wave of the hand.

    I refuse to be defined by an ad. Yes, I babywear and sometimes I’m really bad at it and sometimes it hurts – as anyone who was at Blogher Boston could see – and sometimes I take a pain reliever to help with the back aches that come as a result of said babywearing. I don’t need a pointless ad to justify the way I mother. End of story.

    (Did I get my point across? Probably not. Have headache from screaming baby. Need Motrin. Heh.)

    Bonnie Baker November 17, 2008 at 11:29 am

    Watching the video, I was trying to figure out if it was one of those spoof things or not. I think it was intended to be funny but came across as mocking. Goes back to the fact that Moms do, instead of build each other up, criticize and tear each other down for making choices different from their own.(breastfeeding, baby wearing, co-sleeping). We need to respect each other as women and mothers first.

    Renee November 17, 2008 at 12:04 pm

    Really well-written post, as always, though I can’t say I really agree…I have two kids, who I’ve worn in various devices, and may be going for #3. I thought the ad was funny – it didn’t insult me in the least. Or at least, no more insulting than tampon/maxi pad commercials, PMS commercials, etc. (For men, I don’t think the erectile dysfunction commercials are all that non-patronizing either…) Don’t you think we’re taking ourselves a bit too seriously? Oh, and also, I get migraines, and Motrin works GREAT!

    kayla November 17, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    the ad is definitely not right at all. Great article thanks so much for sharing. I’m not sure how i found you but i always like making new blog friends. I believe i was looking for stuff on our sons condition esophageal atresia, i wish you the best.

    Meagan Francis November 17, 2008 at 12:42 pm

    I just posted nearly the same thing as your postscript over at Moxie. I’ll repost it here:

    I guess to me this sounds like the old adage “if breastfeeding hurts, you’re doing it wrong.” In my experience nursing four children, sometimes it just hurts. In my case once it hurt because of thrush…once it hurt because positioning was bad…and once it hurt for no reason except my nipples needed time to get used to my baby’s barracuda-like suck. Hearing “if it hurts you’re doing it wrong” was extremely frustrating because I WANTED to keep going, I WAS doing it right, and I just wanted to feel like I wasn’t alone (after a couple of weeks the pain was gone and I went on to have a happy two-plus year nursing relationship. But it helped when a few people were honest enough to say, uh, yeah, sometimes? It just hurts.)

    Anyway all this is to say I’ve tried many different kinds of slings, different holds, worn them differently etc…and when you have a) 9- and 10-lb newborns and b) a propensity toward back/shoulder strain and pain, sometimes it just HURTS. I still wore my babies for 110 reasons, but it feels a little dismissive to say “if it hurts you’re doing it wrong”…unless you know the personal anatomy and babywearing habits of every single woman complaining of pain, the truth is you just don’t know.

    And yeah, I found the ad mildly insulting, and they got the tone all wrong, but I didn’t quite understand the level of outrage, either. Parts of motherhood are painful, and acknowledging that would have been very smart marketing…if they’d gotten the tone right.

    pkzcass November 17, 2008 at 12:54 pm

    I was never a big fan of babywearing; I loved the coach too much, but hell, that ad is just obnoxious.

    LAVANDULA November 17, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    the ad was a little insulting but really do i care?no. i am more concerned about a lot of other things.and yes i have worn all 4 of mine and did it hurt sometimes hell yeah,but it never stopped me from wearing my babes.

    the new girl November 17, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    Great summary, Catherine. Nice, balanced post.

    Issas Crazy World November 17, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    I love the internet. Without the internet, I’d be totally lost.

    I found the ad to be insulting. But at the same time, I think people glam onto one thing and take it too far. This time it’s an ad. If you watch any TV though, half of those ads are insulting to people. Any geared at parents especially.

    I wear my baby. I doubt I’m doing it right either, since sometimes it is painful. But as long as he’s happy and quiet, I don’t really care.

    - Kellie November 17, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    /looks around. I agree with awake.

    Honestly, if I’d seen that ad (and I wouldn’t, because I Tivo ;) , I would have probably chuckled, thought “hey, they’re finally targeting an audience I belong to”, and moved on. Also, “hey, apparently I am not the only person that finds babywearing to cause a need for Advil on occasion!”.

    /looks around again. Also, there *are* some parents out there for which choices are a “competition”, and just like what kind of stroller you choose or diaper bag you carry or if you bf or if you cloth diaper, babywearing *can* be used as kind of a statement (whether it’s the type of carrier, or that you do it at all), and I’d imagine it would, in some case, help you fit in with the moms you know or see at the park or whatever. So, it’s not exactly untrue, for *some* moms.

    Amy @ Milk Breath and Margaritas November 17, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    Good post! “light as farts with angel wings” just killed me.

    I work in marketing research and simply cannot believe they showed this to actual moms. Stupid ad. Their ultimate point is a valid one but the way they try to get there is so bad.

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