Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week
Sometimes you can do everything right and still become the target of bad press.
This is basically what has happened to Johnson & Johnson in the last few weeks regarding its legendary baby shampoo.
Folks, the media loves nothing less than finding that particular story which is counter-intuitive. You know the story: vitamins are bad for you, seatbelts hazardous for your health, etc.
That’s why when a health advocacy group decided to focus their attention on the fact that J&J’s famous baby shampoo contained small traces of Quaternium-15, a formaldehyde releaser, it became a big news story.
Fact is, these formaldehyde releasers are in almost every cosmetic product out there and have been for decades. There are also no regulations against their use even though some of them might be carcinogenic in certain quantities.
Bottom line, J&J faced a problem. On the one hand, the objective truth is that their baby shampoo and their manufacturing techniques are probably as baby safe as you are going to get. After all, formaldehyde isn’t only present in so many cosmetics, it is even found in the air we breath.
On the other hand, unfortunately, the message of the health advocates is a very simple one: formaldehyde has no place in baby products. That message resonates and it immediately challenges (on the surface at least) the image of J&J’s shampoo as a baby safe product.
J&J’s message in defense of its practices is complex, too complex for the marketplace. For better or for worse, in consumer branding you only have a limited space to get your message across and the more contradictory information –and, folks, isn’t that what scientific analysis is often about? — the worse for the brand message.
So even if J&J had right on its side, which I think they probably did, the company realized that the best thing to do was simply accede to health advocates’ demands and announce that they would be eliminating the ingredient.
Done. End of story because without the ingredient the story goes away. The kind of prolonged debate that could have damaged the brand is short-circuited.
Still, you have to wonder how good it is for long-term brand health, especially in pharmaceuticals and health-care products, when the authority, in this case J&J, with the data on their side has to give in just because the risks are too great if they don’t.
Folks, fracking, the process of releasing natural gas trapped in coal, hasn’t been in the news much except for the occasional shrill news story about water tables supposedly being poisoned or the process causing earthquakes.
Here’s the issue and why fracking is the loser.
According to Daniel Yergin, the well-regarded expert on all things energy history, fracking is the energy game changer that we’ve all been waiting for in the United States and the world.
In the last ten years, the proportion of natural gas supply in the United States produced by the process has risen from 1% to 30%.
David Brooks at The New York Times says that fracking is near miraculous since the economics of fracking will lower electricity prices dramatically and supply enough energy for 100 years.
Brooks’ point in his column was this: in any other time, Americans and the world in general would be singing the praises of fracking. Headlines would be written proclaiming the new energy era. Almost everyone would be united in supporting the new technology.
That, of course, isn’t happening and that’s why fracking is the brand loser this week.
A little like the J&J story above, the science of fracking and its benefits are fighting against a tide of negative public opinion.
Basically, the extreme environmentalists have really taken the wind out fracking’s sails.
What’s unfortunate is that fracking should have an exciting, hopeful and environmentally-positive brand image.
So what has to happen?
Well, fracking probably has a long road ahead of it, but the companies behind it need to begin to actively get their message to the reasonable middle ground who know that the cost (minimum environmental impact) and benefits (lower electricity costs and American energy independence) are genuinely exciting and ought to be celebrated.
Again, this is branding that will take time, but as the fracking industry gets up to speed and people start seeing the advantages, the messages should speak for themselves.
And remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind.
TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY – Brands must be supported by consistent action over the long-term.