In an unexpected display of breathtaking courage, Johnson & Johnson has launched an advertising campaign heroically endorsing love.
Take that, pro-hate brands. A line has been drawn in the sand.
Love: it's the most powerful thing on the planet. Love is there to hold us in the beginning, there to comfort us as we grow old, and there for all the times in between. Love is family. Love is life. And for that love you sacrifice it all. Love is the reason you care for the tiny and the fragile, for the wise and irreplaceable, for all the things in your life that make life worth living.
The visuals for all of this are scenes of people of all ages and ethnicities, photographed in black-and-white, being loving in slow motion. In the dramatic sequel, J&J will come out for peace, democracy and the food pyramid.
Yes, Johnson & Johnson is banally reminding us about the obvious, hoping to rekindle our love affair with a decreasingly lovable brand. The simple Ivory soap bar may be 99 44/100ths pure, but the corporation sure isn't.
In the past three years, the company has been fined more than $1 billion, settled multiple regulatory actions and has faced huge lawsuits for a staggering series of failures: selling bacteria-contaminated products, including OTC children's medicines; paying bribes to European doctors to prescribe its products; fraudulently marketing the anti-psychotic drug Risperdal; covering up product flaws in replacement hips that failed up to 49% of the time. Then there was the so-called “silent recall” of Motrin, through which the company paid a third party to buy up defective Motrin from store shelves so it would not have to go public with the embarrassing truth.
On the plus side, they have a good alibi for the Boston Marathon bombings. So far.
There was a time when this sort of maneuver could be pretty effective. You could advertise your way out of bad p.r. General Electric, DuPont and Chevrolet, among others, had that down to a science. The J&J ad comes courtesy of TBWA, which trotted out the slo-mo black-and-white back in the '80s for the securities firm Drexel Burnham Lambert, which was at the time fleecing America with junk bonds.
But, as they say, that was then -- this is now. This is the Relationship Era, characterized for keen public interest in the conduct of brands, not to mention supercharged WOM. In social media, hypocrisy is called out in a heartbeat. I fully expect this execrable piece of propaganda to be dealt with harshly (suggested hashtag: #lovethis). The betrayal is only magnified by the company's place in the pantheon of integrity, earned in 1982 with its selfless, heroic recall of all Tylenol products when a Chicago madman tampered with Extra Strength Tylenol capsules with cynanide, killing seven people. But, as they say, that was then -- this is now.
Maybe you can't characterize bribery and illegal marketing and distribution of defective joints as “hateful,” exactly, but it sure isn't loving. The company's conduct has been so repulsive it has simply lost the privilege of waxing sentimental on that theme. “Speak not of love,” wrote Percy Bysshe Shelley -- probably after a hip replacement.
And as long as I'm quoting people, if you're up on your scripture you know that Peter said: “Love covers a multitude of sins.”
That's true. But not just blabbing about it.