Poll shows J&J rep is dented, not destroyed

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Despite recalls, a settlement over allegations of Medicare Fraud and illicit marketing of off-label drug use, a poll by research group Harris Interactive indicates that Johnson & Johnson's corporate reputation is dented, but seemingly intact.

The pharma giant, whose portfolio of OTC health, beauty and baby products gives it a high profile, fell to seventh place among the poll's 60 most well-regarded companies. Last year J&J ranked second.

That might not be such a fall from grace, considering the series of recalls the company's McNeil division has suffered over the last couple of years, including a number of children's products as well as adult formulations of Tylenol, Benadryl, Sudafed and Sinutab. That's in addition to products like insulin pump cartridges and an antipsychotic medication. Three of the company's four manufacturing plants were consigned to five years of intensive FDA scrutiny following the recalls.

J&J scored 80.45, in the Harris Interactive poll, which takes into account metrics that include social responsibility, leadership and financial performance. The poll considers clearing the 80-point mark an “excellent reputation” rating.

Adjunct professor and former J&J account manager David Vinjamuri, says the number 7 ranking does not mean Johnson & Johnson has dodged a bullet.

“You have to look at these polls in five and 10 year stretches to really understand them because it takes that long… to be registered in consumers' opinions.” He added “If you have a brand that was always first or second and it's now seventh or eighth…you should not see it as a good thing. It should raise a question for you.”

The company has suffered a degree of backlash — US sales slid 6.7% last year, though the figure is somewhat obscured by the 2% worldwide sales bump to $15 billion.

Vinjamuri, who is also president of the marketing company ThirdWay Trainers, says the US results are not to be dismissed, because it takes a while for negative perspectives to take hold and really show themselves. He said one marker may not be visible until today's kids become adult consumers, which means if their own parents walked away from brands like Tylenol because of quality issues, they themselves may not purchase the brands for their own children because they are not part of their concept of care.

Vinjamuri says that one thing J&J has a lock on is the consumer messaging that these are the brands doctors and hospitals choose first. He says the company has effectively nurtured the message of its dedication to doctors, nurses and patients, but even that message, which is the corporate credo, will not be enough to keep the reputation on solid footing without serious change.

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