Case Studies

Johnson & Johnson’s cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules (classic Crisis PR case study)

Johnson & Johnson's cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules (classic Crisis PR case study)

The Johnson & Johnson Tylenol capsules crisis many years ago has remained one of the most famous public relations case studies of all time.

Public relations professionals and scholars all over the world are always refreshing themselves on the PR lessons from this classic case study. Here’s a summary.

The crisis:

Johnson & Johnson faced a grave crisis when seven people died in after taking extra-strength Tylenol capsules that had been laced with potassium cyanide, a deadly poison. The killer was never found.

How Johnson & Johnson responded:

The company put customer safety first. It quickly pulled 31 million bottles of Tylenol — $100 million (N120 billion worth) — off the shelves and stopped all production and advertising of the product.

It also got involved with the Chicago Police, FBI, and FDA in the search for the killer, and offered up a $100,000 reward.

It launched a massive public relations campaign to educate the public on the corrective action taken and all the efforts being made to keep the public safe.


The company reintroduced Tylenol with new tamper-resistant packaging and special discount coupons.

The public relations result:

Johnson & Johnson's cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules (classic Crisis PR case study)

A go-to case study in MBA classes worldwide, Tylenol’s response to the tragic 1982 Chicago murders is regarded as one of the most successful sequences of crisis management in history.

The media appreciated the lengths J&J went to and its concern for the public interest, so the company was portrayed generally in a good light, helping the Tylenol brand to recover.

The crisis communication lessons gleaned from this case are centered on transparency, accountability, and proactive measures.

By taking immediate responsibility, being transparent with the public, and implementing proactive safety measures, Johnson & Johnson demonstrated the crucial importance of prioritizing public safety and regaining public trust during a public relations crisis.


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