Friday, November 11, 2011

Johnson & Johnson Misdiagnosis of its Crisis

Perhaps it depends on how you define "crisis," but there are more than 200 articles by the third day of the month about the concerns about Johnson & Johnson's baby shampoo as well as a movement to boycott J&J. (Not every call for a boycott is a crisis -- on Facebook, there's a list to boycott those who boycott Arizona, so you can have counter-boycott boycotts.)  In fact, this is a big crisis for a brand that last month ranked by Forbes as the most trusted brand in America. This is particularly true because of the concern that some ingredients put babies at risk.

Yet Johnson & Johnson doesn't seem like it's hoping the issue will go away, even as it has posted some information online and on a couple of its Twitter feeds.

For example, there didn't seem to be much activity on Facebook about it, including on the J&J page -- there's one post from the company, from Tues., a day after much of the coverage started hitting. Meanwhile, there are 45 posts on the J&J Facebook wall, most of them from people venting how upset they feel, how they feel the company betrayed them and put their kids in danger.  The lack of engagement is turning off some customers, so that they're feeling as if J&J is not listening to them.

I don't think that's the case, though. I'm sure J&J is listening, but is figuring the company doesn't get much benefit from engaging with angry customers. And there isn't much benefit to engaging if the company is not willing to make changes that address customers' concerns about the possibly carcinogenic ingredients.  The company says it has been reformulating and phasing out some ingredients, but two years have passed and there are still some ingredients that have yet to be replaced in the new formulation.

Meanwhile, J&J has posted a handful of Tweets pointing to the long statement.  Again, it doesn't seem like the company is going out of its way, and possibly for the same reason.  While the company has several Twitter feeds, you'd
have to know where to find them (@JNJStories, @JNJHistory and @JNJComm) to see the posts, which merely offer a link to the long statement. Even the blog post (called JNJ BTW) isn't effective.

Part of the problem is that there's a lack of emotion or a lack of conveying that the company understands the emotion that its customers are feeling. While the organization raising awareness about the ingredients has a Twitter ID (@nontoxicissexy, and while much of the coverage includes a photo of an adorable baby, J&J's "A Statement on Ingredients in the News" doesn't address the emotion and concern -- it doesn't even include a photo of an adorable baby.  Instead, the statement is a rather dry, stoic response, one that hides behind language like "The ingredients used in JOHNSON'S® Baby products, including preservatives that are designed to release tiny amounts of formaldehyde to protect against harmful bacteria growth, are safe and approved by regulators in every country or region in which they are used, including U.S., EU, and China."

Really? J&J should have realized that citing the fact that some ingredients meet the standards set by China would not help its case.  After all, China has its own safety and quality control issues, since the country has repeatedly let toy companies export lead-paint-covered toys, among other harmful ingredients and products.

I would be surprised if J&J does not completely reformulate its products to take out formaldehyde and other preservatives. As it is, the company merely says, it takes reformulating its products require "extensive efforts, which require complex testing and significant clinical studies to insure that new formulations meet our high standards for safety, mildness and gentleness." But I don't know why J&J doesn't just announce that it responding to concerns, and that will finish that process within a set timetable. They would be in a better position if they did so. Right now, it seems like the company is taking a hit it doesn't need too -- because it will eliminate formaldehyde. The challenge for J&J is that when it does finally sell formaldehyde-free baby shampoo, the company can't really make a big deal of it. It has a teachable moment that it's not effectively using.