Crisis Management: Is a New Prescription Needed?

Nigel Hollis

In 1982, Johnson & Johnson's Tylenol was the brand leader in the U.S. analgesic category. Then seven people died in suburban Chicago after taking Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules laced with cyanide, and many experts, including ad man Jerry Della Femina, predicted the demise of the brand. Thanks to Johnson & Johnson's deft handling of the situation, Tylenol not only survived, but regained market leadership, providing a textbook example of crisis management. But the world has changed since 1982. If the Tylenol poisonings occurred today, would the principles that guided Johnson & Johnson 25 years ago be sufficient?


First Things First

The first principle invoked by Johnson & Johnson in 1982 was to make public health and safety their overriding priority. Not knowing if the tamperings occurred before or after the product left the factory, the company recalled all 4.7 million capsules from the affected lot. Tylenol advertising was suspended, and people were urged to refrain from using any Tylenol capsules they had on hand. Within a week, the recall was extended when, to reduce the possibility of copycat crimes, Johnson & Johnson issued a nationwide recall of all Tylenol capsules, withdrawing 31 million bottles at a cost to the company of $100 million.