Recalls, lawsuits, investigations -- Johnson & Johnson has had them in droves.
Quality problems and recalls of Tylenol and other brands since 2010 led the Food and Drug Administration to mandate manufacturing shutdowns and improvements that still aren't done. J&J also faces more than 10,000 lawsuits over alleged failures of its Depuy metal-on-metal hip transplants and last year paid $181 million to settle state lawsuits over off-label marketing of its Risperdal antipsychotic drug.
But markets have shrugged. J&J's stock is up 32% in the past year. And as some Motrin and Tylenol products returned to shelves last year, sales soared.
Still, J&J's top marketing and communications officer, VP-Global Corporate Affairs Michael Sneed, isn't kidding himself about an image problem. On May 6, the career J&J executive -- who took the post 15 months ago -- launches a $20 million to $30 million global corporate-image campaign, the emotional "For All You Love" from first-time J&J shop TBWA, Playa del Rey, Calif.
It's inspired by J&J's credo spelling out responsibilities to stakeholders, written by founder Robert Wood Johnson and literally carved in stone at the New Brunswick, N.J., headquarters. It became a pointed barb for critics, but something J&J looks to reclaim. Below, Mr. Sneed talks about how it plans to do so, and discusses the future with TBWA.
Ad Age: Why did you do the corporate campaign?
Michael Sneed: We really wanted to make sure we could express the values of J&J. This is an expression of the values that come from our credo.
Ad Age: It's no secret the company has had some bad press. Is this an effort to recover?
Mr. Sneed: I wouldn't say that. You can't simply have a campaign and that's going to paper over all the things a company does. But I would say that it is a campaign that emphasizes our strategy for reconnecting with consumers when our business is really taking measurable strides to overcome the past challenges.
Ad Age: You could make the case that if there's an image issue, it hasn't hurt much, looking at the recent stock performance. On Fortune's list of "Most Admired Companies," you're No. 23, down from No. 5 in 2009. Is there an image issue?
Mr. Sneed: Well, I would say in some ways, yes, there is. We're certainly pleased with how the business has been doing recently, but we want to make sure people think of J&J as a long-term provider of health care, as a company that's going to be there day in and day out. While we're still considered among the best, there's nothing wrong with being the best. And we want to make sure we get back to that.
But we also know that's a reflection of all the things that we do. So the campaign is really a small part of the conversation. Ultimately, if we're following the tenets of our credo, the rest of it will take care of itself.
Ad Age: Some would say corporate-image work really doesn't sell products. What are your thoughts?
Mr. Sneed: Look, if you're looking for a one-to-one direct relationship between a corporate-advertising campaign and then a transaction that takes place in the immediate term, that's probably true. But I do think more and more consumers do want to understand the companies they're doing business with, and our thinking. The stakeholders we focus on are so much more varied than they were five or 10 years ago.
We certainly have consumers, and they're incredibly important, but we also have a lot of other stakeholders -- doctors, nurses, other health-care workers, regulators, other government officials. They ultimately make decisions about who they partner with, who they recommend. And so ultimately I do think having a good reputation is incredibly important to sustaining a strong and vibrant business.
Ad Age: Why did you go the direction you did?
Mr. Sneed: I'll be honest and say there was no grand plan. When I got into the role, I had the opportunity to speak to our holding companies, and then get an opportunity to get to know several of the agencies within those holding companies. I'd never worked directly with TBWA, but through the course of my conversations with them, I asked, "Hey, are there any ideas about what we should be doing?" And they had been noodling some ideas. At that point they'd showed me this idea that ultimately became "For All You Love." When I saw it, I said, "This really speaks to the core of what J&J is." And then last fall we started getting serious about this.
Ad Age: Is there risk when you have a very emotional corporate campaign that you trigger blowback among folks who say: "They're J&J, and they did this and this and this?"
Mr. Sneed: There's always going to be a section of people who are very jaded whenever they see these types of campaigns. And in some regards they should be if they believe the companies aren't really trying to live up to what they're saying. I don't think that's the case with J&J.
The other side of it is in today's environment, where you have a lot of people telling your story, you have to also be in there telling your story and having that conversation.
Ad Age: Some of the over-the-counter brands and products that resumed production have done very well. Is that a good sign for other Tylenol products when they come back?
Mr. Sneed: I can't predict that. But we've been certainly pleased with the robustness of the Tylenol and other OTC businesses. I think it tells you about the resiliency of the brand, that there has been a reservoir of trust and goodwill. And people have been anxious to see these brands back on the shelf.