Women to Watch China 2013

J&J's June Bu Soothes Chinese Babies -- and Parents

Worried About Safety, Families Don't Skimp on Best Products for Their Kids

By Published on .

In China, anxiety over unsafe baby formula runs high. Many moms would rather breastfeed, but only 28% make it six months without formula. One reason: At work, there's often nowhere to pump but in storage closets and toilet stalls.

June Bu, Johnson & Johnson's executive director, seized on that problem. Her team shot an awareness-building video viewed and shared 11 million times on social media. That 2012 effort encouraged companies to dedicate space for moms to pump -- a theme Chinese authorities echoed months later in a similar campaign.

June Bu
June Bu

Ms. Bu believes sincerity, not salesmanship, built that social media connection with mothers. Johnson & Johnson, famous for baby shampoos and lotions, doesn't even make the pumps featured in the campaign.

"We didn't want it to be too commercialized … then it becomes sales, and consumers can feel that," said Ms. Bu.

The Shanghai native, 44, joined Johnson & Johnson 21 years ago as China's baby-care category was just starting out, when most moms used nothing but water and rough bar soap on infant skin.

After J&J bought Chinese baby care line Elsker in January, Ms. Bu was tapped to head the brand. While J&J's products target China's masses, Elsker is higher-end and uses natural ingredients including shea butter and olive oil. It's pricier, but Chinese parents don't skimp on kids. In China, with its one-child policy, parents face social pressure to give their children the best, Ms. Bu said -- "the best products, best food, best clothes."]

That credo extends even to baby shampoo, especially as product safety is such a worry in China since a deadly 2008 scandal over tainted milk powder.

In China as in the U.S., J&J has faced concerns about formaldehyde-releasing preservatives in its products. The company says it meets both U.S. and Chinese standards but has pledged to improve formulas worldwide to boost consumer confidence. Still, J&J's value share in the Chinese baby- and child-care market slipped to about 30% in 2012 from nearly 40% five years earlier, according to Euromonitor International.

The breastfeeding video helped rebuild brand image. Elsker, with a 3% market share, now offers an opportunity to diversify. Working with DDB Shanghai, Ms. Bu is overseeing a print and digital campaign for Elsker featuring photographs by Anne Geddes, a photographer known for whimsical baby pictures. The ads offer a reassuring message about Elsker's natural ingredients: They show naked babies, asleep, wrapped in leaves and flower petals.

Next: Katty Lam

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