Once beloved as a “family company,” Johnson & Johnson (J&J) now finds itself fending off lawsuits and allegations that suggest this particular family member might be one you don’t invite to holiday gatherings.
Consumer trust of the corporation has taken a hit since 2006 when the World Health Organization (WHO) classified the talc used in Johnson’s Baby Powder as a possible human carcinogen. The lawsuits, of course, followed, with plaintiffs alleging that decisionmakers at the corporate giant knew about the dangers of its flagship product.
In 2019, an internal memo surfaced during the investigation into Johnson & Johnson’s talc baby powder products, and the contents served to further taint the corporation’s already damaged image.
Dated August 5, 1992, the memo suggested that the multinational corporation could increase sales by targeting minority women—specifically African Americans and Hispanics. The internal communication talks about exploring “ethnic…opportunities to grow the franchise” then continues with references to “negative publicity from the health community on talc…inhalation, dust, negative doctor endorsement, cancer linkage.”
Other internal communications underscore J&J’s minority-based marketing strategy as a means with which to combat dwindling sales.
In 2006—the same year that WHO tagged talc as a cancer-causing substance—a J&J internal marketing presentation touted selling more of its Johnson’s Baby Powder to “under-developed geographical areas with hot weather and higher AA [African American] population.”
This market was described as an opportunity, and J&J seemed to embrace the proposed strategy, as evidenced in future documents. According to a report by Reuters, the company handed out Baby Powder samples at beauty salons and churches in minority neighborhoods. They launched print and digital promotions with Weight Watchers, along with a radio campaign that targeted “curvy southern women 18-49 skewing African American.”
Reuters further reported that these same demographics comprise a “large number” of the plaintiffs in today’s on-going lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson. These legal actions claim that Johnson’s talc-based Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products caused them to develop either ovarian cancer or mesothelioma.