Corporations Need To Become True Corporate Citizens

Joseph is a serial entrepreneur (currently Admiral at HMS Beagle) and also writes/teaches a course at West Virginia’s Reed School of Media on Branding. He has authored 5 books (including the most recent, “Built to Suck: The Inevitable Demise of the Corporation…and how to save it?)

A few weeks ago Oklahoma made a landmark decision regarding Johnson & Johnson’s culpability in this country’s opioid crisis, which is pretty substantial.


I’m not going to wag a finger at J&J and posit on their guilt versus denial and self-professed innocence. The judge has already done that.


Instead, I’m going to draw from the “I don’t discriminate; I hate everyone equally” bank.


To begin, let me just say that J&J is no more and no less responsible than ANY other pharmaceutical company that traffics in substances which feed into the sad truth that we are all hopefully overmedicated. Addiction is just one component of a national dependency on drugs that exists quite literally from the cradle to the grave.


They all do it and it’s been going on since…more doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!


This time, Johnson & Johnson are in the cross-hairs of alleged manipulative marketing and go to market practices, but trust me, they won’t be the last.


How can I say this? Simple. They all subscribe to the same flawed and questionable marketing playbook. It’s all about hitting targets; making sales quotas; and yes, those quarterly earnings numbers.


This is the collateral damage of being a public company.


J&J played the game by the only rules they knew, which included a mix of B2C advertising and B2B trade marketing, including some combination of greasing of wheels, palms or recommendations using a combination of kickbacks, boondoggles and tchotchkes.


To be clear, this looks VERY different today than it did a decade ago and guess what, it’s going to look even more different over the next decade.


It’s also not that different than the whole tobacco story. I’m just surprised it took so long for Pharma to be exposed.


Now comes the REALLY scary part. Alcohol, fast food, automotive, financial services and more are not far behind.


From ‘Drink Responsibly’ messages to the obesity epidemic, to Professional Driver; Closed Course to hidden APR small print.


The reckoning is approaching.


Corporations are doomed unless they repent. Mend their ways. Embrace their heresies (I dedicated an entire chapter in “Built to Suck” to this philosophy – for example, what if McDonalds puts scales in their stores that you had to pass through in order to get to the counter and order your Big Mac?)


Corporations need to become true corporate citizens and not just do good; they have to be good. They have to make the world a better place. They have to save the Amazon. It clearly can’t be left up to governments or Leonardo DiCaprio.


If you take anything away from this article, it would be this: we are living in tricky, precarious and even dangerous times. Where political correctness has gone full tilt. We’ve lost perspective and forgotten where equilibrium or balance should be. Some of it is good and extremely overdue. Some of it is a little extreme and misguided.


Either way, the ship has sailed on big companies behaving badly.


There is a new activist consumerism that is gaining momentum and power.


There is a new transparency that demands that talk is backed up with walk.


The controversial “nuisance law” ruling that J&J created a public nuisance and caused harm via deceptive marketing feeds into one of the key heresies, “what if advertising become a pariah? Was taxed? Federally regulated? Went away?”


Now you might have thought I’d consumed one edible too many when I originally wrote this, but now perhaps you might be giving it a second thought…and while you’re at it, try this on for size: what if there was a centrally mandated or federally regulated profit cap on every sale from every Opioid manufacturer? What if they had to donate the remainder of their profits to actually countering the Opioid epidemic?


It’s coming soon to a boardroom or courthouse near you…

Critical ThinkingJoseph Jaffe