Friday, August 10, 2007

Johnson & Johnson: Beyond a simple red cross

Look attentively at the picture on the left. You probably recognize it as Johnson & Johnson's logo, but can you see the red cross in it? If not, you might want to give it another try, but seeing with more detail. Do you see it now?

If you were unable to locate a red cross in their logo, you were not the only one. I wasn't able to find it either, and millions of people around the world have failed to see it. But the senior management at Johnson & Johnson, one of the largest multinational pharmaceutical companies in the world, believes that a red cross is the trademark through which their company has gained their worldwide reputation and market share, and they have decided to sue the American Red Cross for utilizing their logo to make money.

Yes, it sounds ridiculous... and it is. Whilst it is true that Johnson & Johnson registered such symbol as a trademark in 1887, the disgusting fact is that they are suing a humanitarian, non for profit organization, just to increase the cash in their pockets. Their claim is that the Red Cross is supposed to use its logo "only in connection to non-profit relief services", but they have been stamping it in other products that they have been selling to make money.

The Red Cross does not deny that fact. They say that the symbol has been used to sell some products, such as hand sanitizers, combs and humidifiers, all of which are part of health and safety kits. Those kits are sold with the only intention of raising funds for the organization, to support their humanitarian tasks. The money raised from those sales is estimated to be of about $10 million US dollars, which shouldn't be a major concern for Johnson & Johnson given the fact that they reported net earnings for $11.05 billion US dollars for the year 2006, and $10.06 billion in 2005. Their net earnings, by the way, are in the range of billions of US dollars since at least 10 years ago.

Let's analyze a bit of history to determine who stole the logo from whom. The American Red Cross was founded in 1881, and began using its red cross symbol since then. But they received their congressional charter until 1900, 13 years after Johnson & Johnson registered the red cross as its trademark.

I have been looking at several Johnson & Johnson products' packages (from Band-Aids to Tylenol) to see the mysterious red cross that the multinational corporation is claiming as its own. I failed to find even a single product in which the "trademark" they're defending so fiercely appears. That can only have one meaning: Their market share and their success is not linked to the image of the red cross whatsoever. Yet, they are decided to defend it, no matter what the cost is... even if such cost is a bad reputation and the erosion of public opinion. That should be a major concern for Johnson & Johnson, as they have been ranking as a top company in the annual reputation surveys made by Harris Interactive, one of the most respected organizations in the field. But they might be willing to give that up in order to preserve their beloved red cross.

There is not much to comment on this sad and fairly pathetic episode. Even if Johnson & Johnson is entitled to file a sue against the Red Cross, in my opinion the pharmaceutical giant has just reached a new low.

Click here to read the original article from The Globe and Mail.


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