Johnson & Johnson Targeted African-American, Overweight Women in Baby Powder Marketing
2006 was not the best year for the cosmetic talc industry. The World Heath Organization (WHO) began efforts to classify baby powder and other cosmetic talc products as “possibly carcinogenic” when used on the genital region. Prompted by this move, talc suppliers such as Luzenac America Inc. started including such information with its talc shipments. What’s a major multinational company to do when faced with this dilemma?
If you’re Johnson & Johnson, the answer is “aim your marketing cannon at two groups of longtime customers: African-American and overweight women.”
This information was uncovered thanks to a Reuters special report that reviewed decades-worth of internal marketing documents, email correspondence, and published advertisements.
Reuters found that in 2006, faced with stagnating sales and potentially damaging science on the horizon, Johnson & Johnson began a concerted effort to shift their baby powder business model in a way that, according to an internal marketing presentation, “strategically and efficiently targets high propensity consumers.”
Those groups would be African Americans (of whom approximately 60 percent used baby powder at that time), overweight people, and fitness-conscious people looking to lose weight.
Over the next few years, Johnson & Johnson adopted this strategy. The company distributed samples of baby powder to African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods through beauty salons and churches. They launched promotions through weight-loss companies like Weight Watchers, and ran a radio advertising campaign in multiple markets in order to reach “curvy southern women 18-49 skewing African American.” A 2009 internal presentation laid out plans to reach millions of potential customers in southern states with hot climates, noting that “43% of our plan will focus on the top 10 overweight states in the nation.”
It’s important to note that, at that time, Johnson & Johnson knew of the potential risks of using baby powder on the genital region. Doctors had been discouraging the use of talc on infants for decades, and internal Johnson & Johnson documents reference the possible carcinogenic effects of its talc-based powders. To target vulnerable groups and encourage them to use an allegedly dangerous product for the purposes of hygiene without disclosing the potential risks associated with that use is, at the very least, grossly irresponsible.
The entire Reuters special report is a fascinating look into Johnson & Johnson’s marketing practices, and is well worth your time. Click here to read the report in full.
Photo credit: Austin Kirk