Digital A-List 2008

Digital A-List 2008: No. 7, J&J's BabyCenter

E-commerce Site Is Dominating Digital Mommyhood

By Published on .

In a contrarian move worthy of Warren Buffett, Johnson & Johnson in 2001 scooped up BabyCenter from the bankruptcy proceedings of retailer eToys for a bargain-basement $10 million. It became an investment in dominating digital mommyhood.
Tina Sharkey, chairman of BabyCenter
Tina Sharkey, chairman of BabyCenter Credit: Steve Maller

BabyCenter would have ranked as the most heavily trafficked package-goods brand site in a 2007 study by ComScore, but the measurement company decided it was really an e-commerce and media site. Despite growing competition, BabyCenter reaches 78% of pregnant women and mothers of children up to 24 months in the U.S., said Carlos Gottschalk, group chairman of J&J's baby global business unit, at a 2007 investor conference.

But U.S. online success no longer suffices. BabyCenter is aiming for global domination and to follow moms beyond the confines of its website.

That's where Tina Sharkey comes in. J&J recruited her in January 2007 to be chairman of BabyCenter. She came from AOL, where she'd spent nearly five years running social-media and women's-programming initiatives. She's been busy, to say the least. BabyCenter last year launched new sites for India and China in addition to Spanish-language web and mobile sites for the U.S. Hispanic market. This year comes BabyCenter's first Arabic site, now in open beta test, and expansion into Latin America. "The moms coming online today were born online," Ms. Sharkey says. "They're as comfortable online as I was at the mall."

BabyCenter inhabits what, certainly for package-goods marketers, is the most lucrative life stage. It also brings J&J some unmatched expertise in the growing area of online search for package-goods brands. It manages about 20,000 keywords and maintains a constantly updated 60,000-mom panel for market research. And as digital media become a growing slice of marketers' budgets, J&J knows it's not only participating in the revolution but also profiting from it.
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