Byravee Iyer
Aug 31, 2012

Brand experts laud J&J transparency; consumers criticise on Facebook

GLOBAL - Johnson & Johnson's (J&J) move to mitigate a reputational challenge over admissions of toxic chemicals in its personal care products has drawn mixed reactions.

Johnson & Johnson reformulates its personal care brands
Johnson & Johnson reformulates its personal care brands

Last week, the company announced that it planned to reformulate and remove potentially harmful ingredients from most of its cosmetic products and toiletries over the next three years. It is already on course to remove harmful chemicals from its baby products.

To convey the message, the healthcare giant, which makes a range of personal care products including baby shampoo, sunscreens and anti-wrinkle creams, has launched a new 'safety and care commitment' website to reassure consumers. The site also chronicles its ingredient policies as well as its research, safety and sustainability processes.

“We are not planning anything beyond the website currently but will definitely be looking at improving visibility for our transparency efforts in the future,” said Anil Nayak, the company’s communications director for APAC in an emailed response to Campaign Asia-Pacific.

He added that it would be a global initiative. The website is currently available in English and Chinese.

J&J is no stranger to this kind of controversy. In the 1980s, the company withdrew one of its most trusted brands, Tylenol tablets, after it was discovered that some the capsules contained doses of poison. Similar product recalls have taken place for 30 such J&J brands starting in 2009, including some well-knows non-prescription drugs.

The question is whether a mere announcement on a website is enough to tackle a potential public relations calamity.

Brand experts certainly seem to think it is. “J&J has an excellent record on sustainability," said Leslie Pascaud, Added Value’s director of sustainable marketing and innovation. "While there is clearly a branding opportunity, I think that putting on their website is a great way to start. As you know, over-promoting this kind of thing can backfire and J&J is now primarily known for its baby products.“

Graham Hitchmough, Brand Union’s regional director for ASEAN, also commended the move. “The fact that J&J have launched this latest initiative online without a 'big splash' communications effort adds credibility, as the content and integrity of the message is not compromised,” he said.

Hitchmough predicted that in due course, the company will seek ways to leverage the commitment more directly for greater competitive advantage, either by finding a way to carry it on packaging and communications or using it as a platform for building dialogue with customers through social media and other channels.

That aside, the company’s official Facebook page makes a mention of the latest initiative with a link to its new website stating: “The Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies has launched a new initiative – Our Safety and Care Commitment— to increase our level of transparency with you, our valued customers.”

Consumer reaction has been mixed. While a handful commended the company’s plan, there were others who questioned the three-year waiting period. “But you’re taking three years to remove toxic and cancer-causing chemicals from your products? Unacceptable,” said one commenter.

Another consumer said: “thank you for being responsible, but why did it ever get to this?”

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