£1.7bn global ad review is creative solution to Johnson & Johnson’s money problem

It would be nice to think that Johnson & Johnson’s newly announced review of its £1.7bn annual advertising spend was driven by a need for greater creative consistency. But it isn’t.

Money’s the thing – saving it that is. J&J may be one of the world’s biggest brands, but it’s also a company in trouble. Since 2009 J&J has suffered numerous recalls in the US, mainly of its over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol and Benadryl; but the prescription and medical devices businesses have also been hard hit. All in all, it’s said to have lost $1bn in sales, partly through bad luck and mostly through sheer incompetence.

At first it was the staff – including the marketing department – who paid, by being made surplus to requirements. Now it is the spend that’s being trimmed. Judge for yourself from the officialspeak: “Johnson & Johnson is conducting a global agency review and consolidation to build greater value and deliver innovative and fully integrated solutions for our consumer brands.” Well, they wouldn’t want less innovative solutions would they? And they could hardly be less fully integrated than they are at the moment.

In truth, there’s an easy win here for the new kid on the block, Michael Sneed – who became J&J’s top marketing (and PR) officer at the beginning of this year. There could hardly be a less efficient way of running your global marketing services than the one that exists at the moment. Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and All are at the advertising trough. It would be simpler to name a global marcoms group that isn’t on the roster.

WPP has business through JWT and AKQA; Publicis Groupe through Razorfish; Interpublic through Deutsch, Lowe, The Martin Agency and R/GA; Omnicom through DDB and BBDO; and Havas through Euro RSCG. That leaves, er, Dentsu and MDC off the list.

Sneed is a company lifer who, at various stages of his J&J career, has shown considerable sensitivity towards advertising creativity. It will be interesting to see whether this natural instinct gets overridden by the all-powerful imperative of saving the company money. Don’t expect a self-aggrandising Ewanick moment – Sneed seems too modest for that. Do expect a financial deal, of the “Team WPP” or more likely “Commonwealth” variety, that dresses up financial expediency as a coherent creative solution.

The most interesting thing about this review may be the losers. If Interpublic is among them, perhaps group CEO Michael Roth will at last seek to do a deal with Publicis Groupe. The air is certainly thick with rumours to that effect at the moment.

One Response to £1.7bn global ad review is creative solution to Johnson & Johnson’s money problem

  1. Peter K says:

    Here’s a funny thing. When I was reading the Daily Telegraph Olympics supplement just now, I noticed the slew of ads from sponsors P&G. My memory of Stuart’s blog, fuzzed by the previous evening’s Prosecco, made me think you were writing about P&G, and I was going to write “See what you mean!”. But you weren’t, so I can’t. But do look at the collection of sponsor ads for P&G. They are an unintentionally hilarious throwback to 1950s style celebrity endorsement, with fantastically complex endorsements that either require a dictionary – “For unbeatably smooth skin I count on the UK’s best epilator”…or have so many qualifiers that you have to laugh: “Mark Cavendish, World Champion Cyclist, is 100% cool, 100% confident and up to 100% flake free (the asterisk refers to “removes up to 100% visible flakes seen at 2ft with regular use”). This one somewhat confusing against the headline “It’s not just what we wash out, it’s what we wash in”. Or try the “Hours and Hours of training and I’m staying ahead of Frizz”, with a picture of Victoria Pendleton, seemingly cycling towards her wedding or similar. P&G even blow their very clever “Proud Sponsor of Mums” line with a picture of a child in a 2012 vest, when the copy is about distinctly unchildish Paula Radcliffe…The overall impression is an unfocused, confused, very expensive campaign. Oh..and the Olympic sponsor logos are different in each ad.

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