Reputation Institute: Talc lawsuits not hurting J&J's image with millennials

Alex Gorsky is the CEO of Johnson & Johnson.

Despite a rash of bad publicity from high-profile cases over its products using talcum powder, Johnson & Johnson has a thriving reputation among millennials, according to research released recently by the Reputation Institute.

Two class-action lawsuits have resulted in eight-figure penalties against Johnson & Johnson totaling more than $120 million. Other cases are working their way through the courts in several states.

Yet even after Johnson & Johnson lost its first case in late February — the study was conducted in the first quarter — the affect on its reputation has been minimal, said Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, VP and MD of the U.S. and Canada at the Reputation Institute.

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Johnson & Johnson ranked number three among millennials, following Samsung and Nike, respectively. Rounding out the top 10 were Intel, Sony, Lego, Walt Disney, Nintendo, Rolex, and Canon.

The online survey collected more than 83,000 individual ratings in the U.S. and 250,000-plus worldwide. The organization said it "decodes" reputation by compartmentalizing it into seven dimensions: products and services, innovation, workplace, governance, citizenship, leadership, and performance.

Most salient in shaping millennials' views of corporations are products and services, as well as CSR, the study found. Younger millennials (ages 18 to 24) are more likely to support companies than older millennials (ages 25 to 34).

"Johnson & Johnson's CSR platform engenders a strong emotional connection to its consumers," Hahn-Griffiths explained. "In the court of public opinion, when facing these challenges and reputation crises, they have this emotional buffer that allows them to ride the storm. It also gives them the benefit of the doubt."

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In contrast, Chipotle, which was for months hurt by food-borne illness outbreaks, has a reputation that's in "free fall," according to the survey. Hahn-Griffiths noted the "deep contrast" between Chipotle, a brand with relatively new national prominence, and Johnson & Johnson.

"Companies can use the legacy of their heritage as an emotional crutch to get through crises," he explained. "[And] Chipotle didn't have that same goodwill. It was their first true moment where they were put to the test and they failed."

Johnson & Johnson has since tried to refute the lawsuits' claims on its blog, claiming that 30 years of research backs the safety of its products. The portal also features  a video statement from its chief medical officer, Dr. Joanne Waldstreicher.

"[Johnson & Johnson's reputation] would suffer if the company was found culpable of intentional wrongdoing, or if it was discovered [to be] withholding information," Hahn-Griffiths said, adding that it has been transparent and proactive.

This story originally appeared in PRWeek.