News | April 28th 2021

Ad Age | Johnson & Johnson Moves U.S. Baby Brands to Doner in Search of Rebound

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MDC shop will work with Stagwell's Code and Theory, as brands passed around several agencies in recent years get new caretakers

Originally published in Ad Age by Jack Neff

Johnson & Johnson has moved its Johnson’s Baby and Aveeno Baby U.S. creative accounts to MDC Partners’ Doner following a review, taking effect this quarter, the company confirmed. The move brings new caretakers to a brand with an image problem and a recent history of being passed around to various agencies.

People familiar with the matter said Stagwell Group’s Code and Theory will work alongside Doner on the account – which J&J didn’t confirm. The MDC and Stagwell agencies previously have worked jointly on a bigger piece of J&J business won in late 2019 – Tylenol, Listerine and Zyrtec. Doner and Code and Theory declined to comment. MDC and Stagwell later agreed to merge last year in a deal expected to close this quarter.

Interpublic’s Deutsch, New York; and WPP’s Wunderman Thompson also participated in the review, according to people familiar with it. J&J declined to comment on that, as did those agencies.

Confirming that Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health has named Doner its lead creative agency for the U.S. baby portfolio, a spokeswoman said in a statement, “We are very grateful for the tremendous partnership and collaboration of our previous agency partner who has made a lasting impact on our business. We are also appreciative of the commitment of all the agencies who participated in the pitch process and those who partner with us on our businesses globally.”

The account move, which doesn’t affect the Aveeno adult skincare business, comes as the Johnson’s Baby brand looks to recover from years of publicity around litigation alleging Johnson’s Baby Powder caused ovarian cancer. J&J has consistently denied any such link and had mixed results in court. The company pledged to appeal the biggest judgment against it – a $2.1 billion award in Missouri – to the U.S. Supreme Court after losing an appeal late last year before Missouri’s high court.

Without admitting any health danger, J&J last year said it would stop using talc in Johnson’s products, which now exclusively use cornstarch.

Omnicom Group’s BBDO handled Johnson’s Baby alongside VaynerMedia during the brand’s biggest media push of recent years — a 2018 effort to re-stage the brand around natural products. Subsequently, Johnson’s Baby moved to Omnicom’s Velocity unit for J&J brands until that shop closed in 2019. Omnicom’s DDB, which works on Aveeno adult skincare advertising, handled both baby brands in the U.S. more recently, but didn’t participate in the pitch, according to people familiar with the matter. BBDO declined to comment and DDB didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Neither Johnson’s nor Aveeno Baby has had TV ads on air since 2019, according to iSpot.tv, and Kantar reported overall spending on the baby brands at only $6.4 million last year. But Johnson’s Baby has been active in paid digital and social media recently, spending over $216,000 just from April 5-13, according to Pathmatics.

J&J’s baby brands did well globally last quarter, with sales up 9.5%, the company reported, but that growth all came from outside the U.S.

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