Since the father of modern Propaganda and the author of a book by the same name, Edward Bernays (1928), taught corporations that they need to shape and manipulate peoples’ perceptions in order to sell them products, few corporations have shaped and manipulated people more effectively than Johnson & Johnson.
Branding, for marketers, means searing their brands into the brains of consumers the way ranchers firebrand cattle. Consumers are psychically branded through propaganda meant to shift their awareness and align them with pleasant images. Many of us seem only too willing to go along. Some buy only Mercedes Benz or BMW cars, or only Prada handbags or Nike shoes. Many of us are happily branded. Some are branded by Johnson & Johnson; some use only Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder because they associate Johnson & Johnson with its advertising, cute cuddly babies playing under the loving eyes of their mothers. What’s not to like?
Does Propaganda Work?
Who can read the words ‘Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder’ without seeing the bottle shown in advertising and a cherub-faced, round-headed baby sitting up smiling in its diaper? There ought to be a law against exploiting underage citizens for commercial profit. It is difficult for one to even look at a television advertisement or a picture of a baby without dropping one’s natural defense mechanism to ferret out bull****.
Baby Advertising Unethical
Using babies without their consent in advertising is just plain foul. It’s neither fair to the used babies nor to the people those cute babies are used to short circuit.
Brain-imaging studies have shown that looking at cute baby faces activates dopamine reward pathways in human brains. Babies can even elicit a protective impulse in both women and men. Such instinctual behavior is hardwired into humans for survival. The human baby remains with its mother, helpless, far longer than any other mammal. Using babies in advertisements that exploit our own instincts, that use those instincts against us to fool us, is just plain wrong. J&J nor any other propagandizer has ever been taken to account for exploiting babies as well as human sympathies, but the mega corporation has at least been held to account for other crimes.
J&J Fined $2.82 Billion
According to Public Citizen, Johnson & Johnson has been fined some $2.82 billion for criminal and civil transgressions committed from 1991-2015.
In a 2013 settlement, J&J paid a $2 billion penalty for (among other transgressions) promoting its antipsychotic Risperdal for off-label use in elderly patients with dementia, even though J&J knew Risperdal could cause more strokes in those patients. It was also fined for promoting Risperdal off-label to minors, putting them at great risk for gynecomastia. J&J faces several Risperdal Lawsuits as a result.
Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder Propaganda
Three juries so far have looked at J&J’s propaganda regarding its flagship product, Johnson & Johnson’s Baby Powder, and three juries have all concluded that J&J failed to warn women that talc in that baby powder can cause cancer. That doesn’t make a very cute picture, but perhaps it is one we should keep in mind the next time we see Johnson & Johnson using cute babies to propagandize their images in order to short circuit our capacity to reason.