S.C. Johnson & Son is a Wisconsin-based manufacturer of household products. Its many recognizable brands include Saran Wrap, Ziploc, Windex, Glade, Raid, Pledge, and Toilet Duck. Johnson & Johnson is a completely separate company, based in New Jersey. Johnson & Johnson makes medical devices and personal care products, such as Band-Aid bandages and Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, but its biggest business line is pharmaceuticals.
Johnson & Johnson used to be a major provider of ingredients to opioid drug manufacturers and it continues to have a small share of the opioid drug market. This week, the company was ordered to pay a $572 million judgment to the state of Oklahoma for its role in the state’s opioid crisis. As such, now more than ever, S.C. Johnson would like you to know that it is not a pharmaceutical company and that it has never been affiliated with Johnson & Johnson.
S.C. Johnson would particularly like Oklahoma attorney general Mike Hunter, who won the lawsuit, to stop making digs at Johnson & Johnson for allegedly calling itself “a family company,” since “a family company” is actually S.C. Johnson’s tagline. S.C. Johnson CEO Fisk Johnson’s letter threatening to sue Hunter over the issue has strong “per my previous email” energy:
I am writing to demand that you retract your statements that have appeared in both national and local media citing the SC Johnson tagline, “A Family Company.” If you do not, we will have no choice but to bring suit.
This is a very difficult letter to write because the opioid crisis is such a terrible tragedy which has devastated many families. I can’t possibly imagine what it’s like for those families who have lost family members, and it is so important that this crisis be solved. While this issue on which I am writing pales in comparison, under the circumstance, I feel compelled to stand up for the 13,000 hardworking people of SC Johnson.
I have written to you on several occasions, “A Family Company” is the tagline of SC Johnson, not Johnson & Johnson. When you first used our tagline in May, and we reached out to your office, the Counsel for the State offered to make it clear on the record that SC Johnson is not associated with Johnson & Johnson in any manner.
We even contacted your office yesterday, as a further reminder to avoid using our tagline, which would cause people to believe SC Johnson is involved in this suit. Yet it was shocking and quite frankly outrageous, that you still went on national television, again propagating this misinformation. There was simply no reason for that.
You said yesterday that Johnson & Johnson’s actions were “inconsistent with all of the grand statements that they [Johnson & Johnson] make about being a family company …” However, we can find no occasions where Johnson & Johnson has ever referred to themselves as a family company. I can only conclude that these theatrics are in the service of personal political advantage.
Ken White, a Los Angeles–based litigator with expertise in libel and defamation law (who is also my podcast co-host), told me that he’s a little baffled by S.C. Johnson’s threat to sue Hunter.
“I’m not sure what the claim could be, and I find it very difficult to believe it could succeed,” he said, noting that defamation claims must take into account the entire context in which a speaker makes a statement. When Hunter made what may have sounded like an oblique reference to S.C. Johnson’s corporate tagline, he did so in the process of blasting Johnson & Johnson and discussing a nine-figure verdict he had won against Johnson & Johnson. It is hard to look at that entire context and conclude that Hunter was talking about S.C. Johnson, let alone defaming it.
“To be abundantly clear, we in no way meant for anyone to confuse SC Johnson with Johnson & Johnson,” says Alex Gerszewski, communications director to Attorney General Hunter. “It is regrettable if someone did.” He added that the “family company” comments were meant to refer to how Johnson & Johnson projects its public image, not as a reference to the S.C. Johnson tagline.
So, it’s unlikely S.C. Johnson has a legal case here. But at least talking about one is a way to generate headlines like the one on this article, emphasizing that it has nothing to do with opioids.