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Trademark travesty

In a brilliant PR move, US health-product giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is suing the American Red Cross for, wait for it... using the red cross symbol on some commercial products the charity sells to raise funds for its disaster relief services.

The New Jersey-based maker of such things as Band-Aids®, Rogaine®, Tylenol® and Wart-Off®, is arguing that it has exclusive rights to use the world famous symbol for its own first-aid products and is seeking a court injunction ordering the American Red Cross to stop using the symbol on its commercial products.

The care bears at J&J are also demanding that the Red Cross hand over all their first-aid and emergency preparedness products for immediate destruction and are calling for unspecified damages. Bless their hearts.

The non-profit disaster relief charity sells branded first-aid kits as part of its fundraising efforts. According to the organization, it received only $2 million in revenue from the sale of such products in 2006. In contrast, J&J received $53.3 billion in revenue over the same period. The American Red Cross meanwhile is facing a budget deficit after a record number of disasters in the region in the past few years, including Hurricane Katrina.

Incidentally, the first use of the Red Cross symbol was, er, by the Red Cross. The International Red Cross was formed in 1863 in Geneva, 14 years before J&J began using the symbol for its first-aid products. The American branch of the Red Cross was set up six years before J&J first started using one of the world’s most famous icons for mere commerce.

It is likely going to take more than a few Band-Aids® for J&J to heal the wounds from all the negative publicity we expect to see regarding this case. Perhaps they should consider contracting the Red Cross to help them with this particular PR disaster.

New Internationalist issue 405 magazine cover This article is from the October 2007 issue of New Internationalist.
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