Johnson & Johnson’s new identity is intended to reflect wider changes in the company, which now has an “exclusive focus on healthcare innovation and tackling the toughest health challenges”.
The changes include the renaming of Janssen, the company’s pharmaceutical segment, as Johnson & Johnson Innovative Medicine, while the brand will continue to incorporate the medical technology sector of the company, named Johnson & Johnson MedTech. The consumer side of J&J’s business – which includes brands such as BandAid, Listerine, and its well-known baby shampoo – was announced earlier this year to be shifting to the name Kenvue.
Kenvue products will continue to bear the name Johnson & Johnson and the old logo for the time being – presumably until the old stock is ready to be replaced with its new branding, also designed by Wolff Olins.
When that move occurs, the original logo – which has been used by the brand since 1887 and is based on co-founder James Wood Johnson’s signature – will disappear entirely, a decision that has already generated much debate on social media.
Reasons suggested for the abandonment of the original mark range from a desire by Johnson & Johnson to distance itself from recent lawsuits that claim its now discontinued baby powder could be linked to cancer (which the brand denies, insisting it was safe) to the fact that cursive script has fallen out of favour in many schools.
It is more likely though that it is another example of a brand wrestling with digital transformation, and wanting a logo that is effective online and on social media. According to information released to the press, the brand hopes to build “more equity around a short-form ‘J&J’ to show up in a more personable, contemporary way — especially in digital interfaces. The brand will also show up in motion and respond to different environments.”
In this Johnson & Johnson follows multiple brands, particularly those in the fashion and automobile sectors, which have introduced stripped back identities that are intended to perform better in digital spaces. Interestingly though, there’s been the beginnings of a backlash against this ‘blandification’, notably by fashion brands such as Burberry, which recently reintroduced a new version of its heritage knight symbol.
Not everything about the old branding is going – Johnson & Johnson will “continue to leverage the colour red” and is retaining its ampersand, though this has shifted away from the unusual, hand-drawn quality in the former logo and now “presents itself as a more globally recognisable symbol”, says the company.
The new Johnson & Johnson logo conforms to current pharma design trends, as can also be seen in the Kenvue identity and in GSK’s recent redesign (again by Wolff Olins). And it certainly provides a visual signal that the brand has changed. But was abandoning a 138-year-old, universally recognised logo really the only way to do this?
As Coca-Cola and Co-op have shown in recent years, it is possible to build on heritage branding and still usher in a new age. And at a time when distinctiveness is everything for brands, it seems that Johnson & Johnson may have just thrown away its most valuable visual asset.