Johnson & Johnson sacrifices ‘sacred cows’ as it preps rebrand

Johnson & Johnson is rebranding its entire baby care portfolio, prioritising transparency over science as it looks to get closer to parents.

The new look Johnson & Johnson baby care range.

As the number one baby care brand in the world, Johnson & Johnson had grown accustomed to using concrete scientific research to back up the global appeal of its products.

From its iconic gold baby shampoo to its pink lotion, the scientific benefits of its products have always been at the heart of its messaging. That is until now.

Market leaders like Johnson & Johnson are being questioned like never before thanks to the rise of social media, with parents sharing concerns about dyes and fragrances in baby care products and some moving towards of all-natural alternatives.

Johnson & Johnson’s initial reaction was to do what it has always done and fight back with science. But the brand quickly realised that science alone was no longer enough.

“It’s the age-old lesson in marketing that if perception is reality you have to lean in and face that reality,” explains Johnson & Johnson’s CMO Alison Lewis.

“We recognise that we’ve got a lot of sacred cows, but at the same time we have to almost start with a blank slate and say ‘if we were starting this business from scratch, what would we do?’.”

In the past, if customers told us they didn’t want dyes it would be, ‘the gold shampoo is gold, of course it’s going to have a dye in it’. We wouldn’t have veered.

Alison Lewis, Johnson & Johnson

Next followed an 18-month period of intensive research with mothers and fathers working within the business, alongside conversations with 26,000 consumers worldwide. The team found concern from parents about having dyes in the products they were using on their babies and a general desire for greater transparency.

Startup thinking

This feedback was enough to convince Johnson & Johnson it needed to relaunch its baby care brand focusing on the human side of its products, putting science in the background.

‘Gentle’ is the filter through which the team approached every aspect of the rebrand. While the repositioning takes inspiration from Johnson & Johnson’s ‘pure, mild, gentle’ tagline, it is focused less on the science side and more on the desire to raise children in a gentle world.

Gone is Johnson & Johnson’s ultimate “sacred cow”, its gold baby shampoo, in favour of a new-look clear version. It pink baby lotion is also no longer pink and Johnson & Johnson is revealing the ingredients that go into its signature fragrances for the first time, information it would have once considered a trade secret.

“We listened so much more than we used to,” she says. “In the past, if customers told us they didn’t want dyes it would be, ‘the gold shampoo is gold, of course it’s going to have a dye in it’. We wouldn’t have veered. That’s a big sacred cow for us to walk away from.”

All the products are now made with naturally-derived ingredients where possible and do not contain phylates, parabens or sulphates. The total number of ingredients have also been reduced by half.

In another move to meet parents’ changing demands, Johnson & Johnson has ergonomically redesigned packaging based on feedback from its employees and customers, with easy-to-hold, pump action bottles that can be operated with one hand while holding a baby.

The global relaunch will roll out over 18 months, starting in the US in August, before heading to China and India by the end of this year and then to the UK during quarter one of 2019.

“What we’ve really pivoted to is a much more humble and open world where, even with the relaunch we say ‘we’re launching it in August, but we’re going to keep our ears open’,” Lewis explains.

“The lessons are that you have to stay true to your heritage and gentle is a big part of our heritage, but you’ve got to be open to new ideas, you’ve got to think like a startup. We responded with science in the past, but that was not what [customers] needed. They had bigger concerns about what they were putting on their babies and just telling them ‘the science is good and we’re safe’ isn’t enough.”

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Millennial parents

While brands talk about targeting millennials as though they are a rarefied group in society, Johnson & Johnson’s approach reflects the fact that millennials are the parents of today and their characteristic desire for authenticity informs the way they look after their babies.

Whereas Gen X parents were used to brands being the voice of authority, millennial parents have grown up in a world of abundant information, enabling them to reassess the position brands hold in their lives.

Johnson & Johnson realised that this generation do not want to be told about the science behind a product, they want to discover the benefits for themselves. This is a reason why brand building has significantly changed from where it was even five years ago, says Lewis.

“They almost want to co-create the brand with us and that’s why it was so important to use our employees who are mothers and fathers, combined with co-creation with consumers,” she states.

Johnson & Johnson believes that its willingness to sacrifice sacred cows like the gold shampoo, and be totally transparent about its fragrances, will resonate with millennial parents.

Johnson & Johnson has ergonomically redesigned the packaging to make its products easier to use for busy parents.

Lewis also questions the theory that millennials are not fans of brands. Rather, she argues that while they are rejecting “Big Brother brands”, they will support brands they believe in.

“Millennials will support brands as much as anyone and actually they are more passionate than our parents’ generation who were more on autopilot in terms of what they bought,” she adds.

“It’s much more active, because there’s a world of limitless shelves now. You have a limitless shelf in ecommerce and a limitless ability to read about a brand in some other part of the world and that’s what’s different today. The ability to discover is so much more.”

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Going unscripted

Committing to complete transparency has also meant changing the communication strategy, starting with the campaign itself. Whereas in the past Johnson & Johnson has always used actors, with the relaunch it chose to work with real mums and dads in an unscripted way.

“That is powerful because you get a real rawness that I think we haven’t had in the past, which I think reflects everything else about really listening to consumers, being empathetic to consumers and being human,” she explains.

The in-house teams in each market are also working closely with influencers to collaborate on ideas. The UK team have designed a programme with 25 UK influencers, bringing them in on a quarterly basis to co-create on projects.

The resulting campaign is “extremely modular”, enabling marketers in different locations to select the elements that best fit their market and local strategy.

Lewis describes this modular approach to creative development as a reflection of the need to develop campaigns that work across multiple mediums from television to social, and echos the brand’s needs on a local level.

“It also reflects the need to make sure that you’re global in the brand,” she explains.

“We want the look and feel to be the same, but that local activation is so important, because the competitive set in the UK is different to the competitive set in the US and China and so therefore there’s no ‘one size fits all’.”

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