J&J's June Bu Soothes Chinese Babies -- and Parents
Worried About Safety, Families Don't Skimp on Best Products for Their Kids
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.
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.