Tylenol Redux… Will McNeil handle the FDA's Report?

The FDA recently released a report chastising a McNeil Consumer Healthcare factory for poor conditions where Children’s Tylenol, Motrin, Benadryl and other products are produced. This will be another test to see how McNeil will behave, and whether they will act as responsibly as when Tylenol was pulled off the market decades ago.

In the fall of 1982, seven people in Chicago died after taking Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules. The FBI subsequently determined that the capsules had been poisoned. The leadership of Johnson & Johnson, the parent company of McNeil, spearheaded by then CEO James Burke, immediately ordered that all Tylenol be removed from retailer’s shelves. They took the position that their consumers came first, and no one should buy or take acetaminophen-based products until the situation was resolved. They were completely open and transparent with the media, and constantly available for questions and information about the status of the investigation. The short-term business loss was enormous, but by protecting consumers, they earned enormous good will. What was so impressive was their instant and responsible behavior.

Once the problem was identified and solved, McNeil reintroduced Tylenol with tamper proof caps, and the brand returned to market leadership. That is an enormous indicator about how much consumers will endure if they believe a brand is honest with them, and doing the right thing. This has been a landmark case of putting consumers first.

With the recent FDA report, it will be interesting to see if McNeil/J&J reacts as responsibly as they did in the past. The report indicated there were about 46 consumer complaints regarding “foreign materials and black or dark specs in its drugs”, as well as several other charges.

McNeil has immediately made statements and acted in the interests of its consumers. They have recalled products and are responding to the FDA charges. In addition, they immediately put up a website to give consumers necessary information. Every indication is that the “consumer first” behavior is still in their blood.

However, time will tell if they attempt to defend their manufacturing procedures at the expense of doing the right thing by consumers. I’m betting they will continue to do the right thing again.