Crisis Communications Case Study Tylenol

From BCMpedia. A Wiki Glossary for Business Continuity Management (BCM) and Disaster Recovery (DR).
Jump to navigation Jump to search


In 1982, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) faced a major crisis that had the potential to send the company into financial ruin. Tylenol, the country’s most successful over-the-counter product, with over one hundred million users, was under attack.

Sealed bottles were tampered with and extra-strength Tylenol capsules were replaced with cyanide-laced capsules. These bottles were then resealed and placed on shelves of pharmacies in the Chicago area. Seven people died as a result. Tylenol was called upon to explain why its product was killing people.

The company first learned of the deaths from a local news reporter. A medical examiner had just given a press conference saying people were dying from poisoned Tylenol. Tylenol had to act fast.

What did Tylenol do right?

  • J&J put customer safety first.
    • Company Chairman James Burke immediately formed a seven-member strategy team with the goal of determining how best to protect people, and then, how to save the product. Their first action was to alert consumers nationwide.
    • They pulled all advertising and immediately stopped production of the product.
    • After finding two more contaminated bottles, the company ordered a national withdrawal of every capsule. (This showed that no matter the cost to the company, customer safety was priority number one.)
  • They were candid. J&J used both public relations and advertising to communicate their strategy, keeping customers informed and in the loop.
    • They issued a national alert telling the public not to use the product.
    • They set up a 1-800 phone line so people could call in with questions and concerns.
    • They established a toll-free line for news outlets. This line also included taped daily updates.
    • They held press conferences at corporate headquarters and set up a live television videofeed via satellite to New York.
    • The chairman went on “60 Minutes” and the “Donahue” show to share the company’s strategy.
  • They offered answers.
    • J&J presented an industry first — triple-safety-seal packing that included a glued outer box, a plastic seal over the bottle’s neck, and a foil seal over the bottle’s mouth. Tylenol released the tamper-resistant packaging just six months after the crisis occurred.

What Good Corporate Crisis Communication Looks Like

One of the first instances that required effective corporate crisis communication was in 1982, when a group of individuals began replacing Tylenol with cyanide-laced pills. The crisis created a massive public outcry. In response, Jonson & Johnson, Tylenol's parent company, issued a public apology, and immediately began taking steps to prevent further harm from being done, including a complete recall of the product and new tamper-proof packaging production. Since then, the Tylenol response has been used as a model for corporate crisis communication around the world.

Read more: Corporate Crisis Communication |

Sources: U.S. Department of Defense Crisis Communication Strategies Analysis Case Study: The Johnson & Johnson Tylenol Crisis.

  • htpp://