Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Last of the Best, or Why I'm Girlcotting Johnson & Johnson

Please don't say you weren't warned. If you have no desire to read a post about feminine hygiene products (FHPs), stop right now, because that's what this is. Although I will try not to be especially graphic, if you're one of those (mostly male) people who gets queasy at even the thought of FHPs, who blushes when the person ahead of you in the grocery store plunks a box of tampons on the counter, I implore you to stop reading right now. If you insist on continuing, then I ask you, at the very least, to refrain from comments such as, "Ewww...I can't believe you wrote about this!"

I've kept my mouth shut about what, to me, is a Very Big Issue for long enough, and it's time to add my voice to those of a few other bloggers to complain, because Johnson & Johnson has permanently discontinued production of their o.b. Ultra Tampons!

That's right, permanently. As in, never coming back.

Let me tell you about my loyalty to o.b. tampons. Unless I was desperate, I have not bought any other brand of tampons since sometime in the mid-1970s. (That's about 35 years of passionate brand loyalty to a product most of my friends have never even tried. Considering teenage susceptibility to peer pressure and advertising--I'm trying to think if I've ever even seen an ad for o.b.s--I think that's pretty remarkable.) I don't think I can say that about any brand of anything else, except maybe cream of mushroom soup. (Never anything but Campbell's for me, although I still haven't completely forgiven them for that "improvement" some years back that made it less lumpy, more creamy...I didn't realize how much I enjoyed those little phlegm-like lumps until they were gone. But I digress.)

There are several reasons for this intense loyalty, the top one, of course, being effectiveness. Since I promised not to get graphic here, all I will say is that, without o.b. Ultras, I never could have made it unscathed through the white-painter's-pants craze of the late '70s, or my year in culinary school (white chef's pants every day). (If you want to read more about why o.b.s are simply the best, there's a good description of how they work in the third paragraph of this article on The Consumerist--written, incidentally, by a man.)

Besides the relative security they gave me, I always liked the fact that there was no applicator to toss in the landfill--we children of the '70s were pretty cutting-edge when it came to being green. (And yes, I know there is a not inconsiderable segment of the female population who thinks an applicator-less tampon is "just gross." To them I say, "Get over it, you spleeny twits.")

Then there was the convenience of their compact size--about the same as a Chapstick--which meant I could carry a whole day's supply in the pocket of my jeans (or white painter's pants, or chef pants).

So I am incensed that Johnson & Johnson has chosen to reward my loyalty by discontinuing my favorite FHP, and that they don't even have the decency to offer a real explanation. (All they've said is that the temporary absence of all o.b.s in stores was due to a "supply interruption," and the permanent discontinuation of Ultras was "a business decision.")

If I had had some advance notice that o.b. Ultras were going to be discontinued, I might well have bought up enough to last me until menopause, although, as my husband points out, I have no idea when that might finally occur. So what? I say--I could have bought, say, 50 boxes of the damn things, and if I didn't need them, I could have made a killing selling them on eBay, where, as of today, they're going for up to $50 for a box of 40, which used to cost about $8 when you could get them in stores.

If you're not an o.b. user, all of this probably means less than nothing to you, and I read in a Reuters article that o.b. sales account for only a "tiny portion" of the $830-million U.S. tampon market. But I also read, in the same article, that "o.b. rang up about $38.7 million in sales in the 52 weeks ended December 26, 2010, excluding sales at Wal-Mart Stores Inc, club stores such as Costco Wholesale Corp, gas stations and convenience stores" (which, it occurs to me, is a list that seems to exclude most of the places I personally have ever bought them...).

So I guess $38.7 million is chump change to Johnson & Johnson.
But do they really want $38.7 million worth of business going elsewhere? Sheesh.

Because that's where my business is going: elsewhere. As of December, when I first heard about the discontinuation of o.b. Ultra, I vowed not to buy any Johnson & Johnson products. No Tylenol, Sudafed, Mylanta, or Benadryl. (Not a problem; I never buy brand-name OTC drugs anyway.) I don't anticipate needing to buy an e.p.t. pregnancy test anytime soon. If I ever get any grandkids, they'll live without J&J's baby oil, shampoo, lotion, and powder, at least when they visit Grandma.

The toughest part will be going without BandAids. I really like their Flexible Fabric ones; they stay on really well. And I'll be really sad when I use up the last of my Hello Kitty BandAids. But I suppose I could try these Jesus bandages, like the ones I got Donna for Christmas ("because what wound couldn't use a little divine intervention?") or maybe these bacon ones. Curad makes Curious George and camo bandages. I think I'll be OK.

Even if you ignore the financial aspect, as the article points out, "O.b. users, many of whom have a cult-like loyalty to the product, said they were outraged when they could not find the brand in stores late last year." Actually, all o.b. tampons were absent from store shelves for a few months; production has since been resumed on all absorbencies except Ultra, which the company says it won't be bringing back.

The Ultra absorbency, in particular, was a favorite of women with heavy periods (translation: cranky, angry, desperate women, many of them, like me, in the throes of perimenopause--already sufficiently pissed off from dealing with years of pointless periods and wondering how much longer this sh&% is going to continue, anyway? without adding insult to injury by unceremoniously, without warning, yanking our favorite FHP from the shelves).

Seriously, d
oes Johnson & Johnson really want to contend with the wrath of a legion (OK, so maybe we're a small legion, but boy, can we make some noise) of vengeful consumers?

I'm joining with others (well, a few others, anyway) to boycott--no, make that girlcott--Johnson & Johnson, as long as they refuse to bring back the o.b. Ultra.

In the meantime, earlier today, I was ecstatic (an emotion that should be all out of proportion to the event) when I discovered, tucked in the very back of the cabinet under my bathroom sink, a forgotten, nearly empty box with two o.b. Ultras left in the bottom! I actually did a little happy dance...but now I'm fretting about whether to use them, or enshrine them.
P.S.: Please don't confuse Johnson & Johnson with S.C. Johnson, the Wisconsin company that makes things like floor wax, Glade, and Pledge--I'm told that, just like their ads say, SCJ really is "a five-generation family company." No reason to girlcott them!