All Hands on Deck as J&J Works to Meet Supply Demands, Find Vaccine

To say Johnson & Johnson is in the thick of heroic global efforts to contain COVID-19 is to understate the obvious. The company’s scientists are hard at work developing treatments and trying to find a vaccine while their supply chain is stretching to accommodate unprecedented demand for Tylenol and hand sanitizer. (A J&J plant in Pennsylvania recently produced 140,000 bottles of hand sanitizer in a single week.)

Johnson & Johnson’s support for front-line health care workers is “part of our heritage,” says Chad Mizee
(Photo courtesy Johnson & Johnson)

“The stories we are celebrating internally right now are the people in our plants and everyone who supports our supply chain as we continue to deliver the products that are so badly needed,” Chad Mizee, the company’s Sr. Director-Global Media & Digital Excellence, said in a recent Brand Innovators Livecast. “Those who are keeping the business running, allowing others to lean into vaccine development. Those who are producing hand sanitizer for front-line health care workers. Our Chief Medical Officer used to be an ER doctor--he’s back providing those services in Brooklyn right now.”

In March, J&J made a $50 million commitment earmarked to support doctors, nurses, midwives and community health workers who are fighting COVID-19. (“Supporting front-line health workers has always been part of our heritage,” says Mizee.) That was on top of the enormous investment the brand announced on March 30 in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to kickstart vaccine research.

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In the days after the World Health Organization first revealed that it had identified a new coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, Johnson & Johnson mobilized quickly in response—both on the ground in China, where the company helped provide healthcare workers with personal protective gear and other support, and in its labs, where scientists began work on a potential vaccine candidate. 

For Marketers, a Pivot

Mizee leads J&J digital strategy in the U.S. with a team of brand managers for 18 consumer brands including Listerine, Johnson’s, Band-Aid, Tylenol, Zyrtec and Lactaid. He does media planning and buying with agencies, works on brand safety and leads partnerships with big companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon.

He says J&J is no different than any other brand in the way it’s being forced to adapt. “Like most people, we are taking it day by day and week by week. We are constantly evaluating whether our creative and our investment is appropriate. Where do we shift based on consumer demand? Are there supply chain constraints? Is competitive activity on the upswing or downswing? Cost of media. Are there places for us to be opportunistic and shift dollars appropriately to generate savings or reinvest.”

The brand has not pulled away from advertising adjacent to COVID-related content, Mizee says. “We did early on when there was a lot of fake news going around but since we hit March we relaxed all of that. It’s super-important for us to invest alongside our publishing partners who are providing valuable information to the public.”

J&J has been intensely focused on supply and meeting the needs of retailers, Mizee says. “There’s been an unprecedented demand for Tylenol so we are running 24/7 to fulfill that demand and prioritize those markets that need it the most.”

While J&J is obviously trying to get Tylenol into the hands of people who need it most, what it isn’t currently doing is driving customers to stores to stock up. “We are onboard with the Ad Council’s ‘Stay Home, Stay Safe’ program,” Mizee says, “so we are being sure not to encourage stockups or foot traffic. We would rather people stay home and get what they need through as few touchpoints as possible.”

“Behavior is Changing Day By Day”

Nothing is business as usual right now and Mizee says marketers must do the best they can when it comes to things like incorporating data from this period into future data sets. “You have to work around it. It is unprecedented. We are trying to build consistent models over time and a lot of that goes out the window right now. You have to look at a lot of historical data, read the tea leaves, bank on some savings and move on.”

What will CPG brands’ media mix look like post-pandemic? “Flexibility will become even more important,” Mizee says. “The TV world is working on getting more flexible. We’re going to see that across the mix.”

Sentiment data, always at a premium, takes on new meaning in these times too, Mizee says. “Our market research folks are on top of it with social listening and market signals. We have lots of consumption data from Google, Facebook and Amazon. All of that is contributing to what we’re looking at in terms of where consumers are. Also our media agency has done a great job looking at how behavior is changing day by day. Is there enough info here to justify a substantial change? We’ll see. You don’t want to make a knee-jerk reaction based on a week’s worth of data.”

J&J is on the front lines of the hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine (Photo courtesy Johnson & Johnson)

Long-Term Recovery

How can marketers plan for what comes next? Mizee says it may be tempting to look back to post-crash 2008 as a blueprint but he actually thinks it is more instructive to look back to the period following 9/11. “The impact on income this time is so much more severe and sudden. The impact on long-term income and how long it lasts will be a major determining factor on where it goes from there. The attention on brand consideration and equity has never been higher than it is right now. Behaviorally, this is probably closer to a 9/11 situation as people reevaluate their choices and, in some cases, prioritize fears. That will be the bigger inflection point coming out of it.”

Johnson & Johnson must be thoughtful in the way it inserts itself going forward, Mizee says. “There is going to be a period of recovery--mentally, economically, etc.--that we want to participate meaningfully in. We are trying to be in the moment and be sensitive to the context. My advice to brands would be, know what you stand for and how you can be helpful.”

The search for a vaccine continues, with work ongoing at numerous companies. (“The more the merrier obviously,” Mizee says.) J&J announced on March 30 that a lead vaccine candidate had been selected to move into clinical trials by September. It could be available as early as January 2021.

To learn more about J&J’s efforts to fight COVID and support front-line health care workers, go here.

To learn more about upcoming Brand Innovators Livecasts, go here.

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