I don’t follow crime or courtroom stories too closely because I’m easily confused by all that legal mumbo-jumbo. However, my ears perked up when I heard Johnson & Johnson was ordered to pay $72 million to a black lady. Here’s the part that got my attention…

Another document noted that sales were declining as more people became aware of the health risks, and included strategies for making blacks and Hispanics the highest users of talcum powder…

So, here’s what happened according to the radio story I heard.

Ms. Jacqueline Fox from Birmingham, Alabama, was doing what her momma told her to do to stay fresh and clean – sprinkle that baby powder ‘down there’ after she washes up. Ms. Fox, as with many blacks, remained brand loyal to Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder for 35 years. She acquired ovarian cancer and sued Johnson & Johnson, but passed away in the fall just before the verdict was rendered.

Johnson & Johnson baby powder contains talcum powder. The supplier of the talc to J&J clearly labels on their shipment that the stuff probably causes cancer. J&J never put a label on their products to warn customers, and people like Ms. Fox just kept right on using it.

She’s not the first to acquire cancer as a heavy baby powder user, as nearly 1200 cases are pending. She’s also not the first to sue, but she is the first to get a huge judgement. I kind of recall an older black man dying from consistently applying talc after showers for many years. I don’t remember it being a J&J product or if he even won a case. Just that fact that he died from trying to stay fresh and clean sort of bothered me.

Part of what swayed the jury to award $72 million to Ms. Fox’s estate was J&J’s marketing strategy to target blacks and Hispanics once white folks became aware of the health risks and switched to something safer, like J&J’s baby powder made with corn starch.

From 1965 to 1980, J&J ran ads in black publications like this…


(from http://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-baby-powder-cancer-lawsuits/)

Those are the years right after my birth to right after high school when I was being raised  in a two-parent household who subscribed to Ebony Magazine. If it was in Ebony (or Jet), it was gospel. That generation of blacks, having just come out of the civil rights era, were extremely excited to see blacks appear on TV, movies, and advertising. They were prone to support those businesses and products that featured black faces. They became very brand loyal.

Even to this day, my 91 year old mother almost exclusively uses Jergens, Colgate, Hellmans, Heinz, Tide, Clorox, Brillo, and Pepsi…and I could go on. That’s not to say any of these brands are bad, it’s just that her brand loyalty over many decades is not uncommon for women like her.

If you don’t believe black loyalty wasn’t a direct consequence of target marketing, please read, ‘The Real Pepsi Challenge’ by Stephanie Capparell. Here’s a brief description…

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, as Jackie Robinson changed the face of baseball, a group of African-American businessmen — twelve at its peak — changed the face of American business by being among the first black Americans to work at professional jobs in Corporate America and to target black consumers as a distinct market.

I read this a few years ago and it is fascinating. It might be time for a re-read.

If we don’t know our history, we’re bound to repeat it, be harmed by it, or sue as a result of it.