Matthew Miller
Jun 20, 2018

'Fans helped us find our purpose': How J&J is re-staging its baby business

Why the venerable brand is going through a reinvention of everything from its products to its mode of communication with consumers.

Alison Lewis speaking at Cannes on Monday
Alison Lewis speaking at Cannes on Monday

Johnson & Johnson is on the verge of a major "re-staging" of its baby products business—what it terms a "reinvention in the age of scepticism".

The rollout, which impacts everything from products to packaging to communications, won't begin in earnest for several weeks and will take well into next year to complete. But on Tuesday at Cannes Lions 2018, Johnson & Johnson’s global consumer CMO, Alison Lewis, and its global baby-division president, Deeptha Khanna, gave Campaign Asia-Pacific an inside look at the factors that drove the change—and the renewed sense of purpose the brand says it has found. 

"The fundamental reason for this category to exist is trust,” Khanna said. “You buy because you trust that this brand is going to be helpful to your baby."

With its long heritage and preeminent market position, the brand was accustomed to being the source of that trust. But through the 2000s, consumer concern about ingredients grew.

Lewis, who gave a presentation on the transformation at Cannes Monday, told Campaign how this concern, amplified by social-media influencers, brought many of the company’s long-trusted products into question. Consumers wanted no dyes, they wanted fewer fragrances, they wanted more naturally derived ingredients, and they wanted fewer ingredients in general.

Ironically for a company that had always done extensive research, some of these concerns had little grounding in science. But that didn’t matter.

Deeptha Khanna

"If we're really listening to consumers, they're telling us that they want different things in our products than what our products are today,” Lewis recalled. “And that led us to saying, we've got to think hard about rethinking many aspects of our business that had traditionally been sacred cows."

The company did react to these trends, of course. A lot of the ingredients that were questioned were removed over time, Khanna said. "But when you looked at us on the shelf, we still looked like the same old Johnson's, and you couldn't see that the formulation had in fact changed.”

A new spin on ‘gentle’

The transformation will roll out first in the US and India (the brand’s two biggest markets) this year, but the majority of markets, including the UK, will see the changes in 2019.

"It’s a journey, and these markets are already on the path of the way that we want to be more relevant and connect to consumers,” she said. “We've started engaging with mom bloggers. All that work is already happening, and we already see that trust and engagement in the brand is already moving with faster momentum.

"And then when we come to the restage, you'll see the whole proposition, and every aspect of the consumer experience, from the first time you look at the pack on the shelf, to when you use it, to the way that we’re going to speak and bring our new campaign to life, is going to be completely fresh, modern and relevant."

Johnson & Johnson isn’t ready to reveal too much, but Lewis and Khanna explained that in listening to its fans, it found the “authentic core” it needs.

The brand believes that because it is in every market and has such a dominant market-share position, it is the only brand that can claim to “be there” for every baby. More importantly, its long-standing focus on being gentle can be given a larger resonance: The brand can stand for creating a gentler world, where every baby thrives, she said.

In communication, this will translate to a "greater marriage of promise and purpose", Lewis said, along with a focus on real people. Instead of strict scripts with actors (including babies), the brand is casting real caregivers and their babies and turning their actual stories of how they care for their children into advertising. In addition, the brand’s work will have room for all types of family relationships and situations, Khanna said.

Look for the new work to debut in about a month.

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