Johnson & Johnson has manufactured first-aid and medical supplies for more than a century. Are their bandages, tape, and cotton swabs really that much better than anyone else’s? Hmmm, probably not. So in the 1940s, the company embarked on one of the most astonishing advertising campaigns I’ve ever seen. Employing a series of stark magazine ads — with such morbid headlines as “Never to Dance Again,” “Tragedy,” and “Loneliness” — they warned parents that using first-aid products from other companies would leave their children crippled, maimed, even dead. Oh, they laid on the guilt pretty thick.
I first noticed these ads while thumbing through a 1941 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine. A full-page advertisement carried the cheery headline, “WHAT’S FATHER BRINGING HOME TONIGHT?” And a close look at the photo revealed that Father, with a downcast face, was walking to the front door with a pair of brand-new CRUTCHES under his arm. Now why would Father be bringing home crutches? Let the rest of the ad tell the whole grim story:
“Not roller skates. Not a tennis racquet … or a hockey stick … or a catcher’s mitt. He’s bringing something for a son who will never skate or ride or play games again.
“Perhaps he cannot yet believe this tragedy. It was only a little wound, the kind any boy might get in a day’s play. His mother bandaged it promptly … and carefully. Yet infection set in, grew rapidly worse. And now … father’s bringing something home tonight … crutches!
“Even trifling wounds may become infected if they are not treated properly with a bandage as clean as your own doctor would use.
“Some bandages, even though they come in boxes marked ’sterilized,’ may have been sterilized only during an early manufacturing process. Later, when cut and packed, their sterility may have been destroyed.
“Be safe. Be sure. Use only the first-aid products of responsible concerns. Johnson & Johnson is one of them. All Johnson & Johnson Red Cross products marked sterilized — Red Cross Cotton, Gauze, and Bandages — are sterilized not only in the making. They are sterilized again after they are packaged.
“Buy — and use — Johnson & Johnson Red Cross products with confidence.”
And then there’s the nice touch at the bottom of each ad: A smiling nurse reminds readers, “You can trust Johnson & Johnson Red Cross dressings. They’re clean and safe. But if there is any doubt in your mind of your ability to care for a wound, consult your physician.” I wonder why they didn’t just have a physician say that?
All in all, it’s an unbelievable advertising campaign that preyed on the fears of any parent. After all, in this case, the mother did everything right; she even bandaged her son’s wound “promptly and carefully.” Oh, but if she had only used Johnson & Johnson products!
I’ll post some others in the near future. Here’s what the full-page ad looked like: