Are you stuck on Band-Aid brand? The catchy jingle was a TV and radio favorite for decades. Band-Aid may not be the top seller in the adhesive bandage market – private label brands have the top spot – but it is undoubtedly the most famous.
How did Band-Aid get started? It began in New Jersey, where a newlywed wanted to find a solution for his wife.
In 1886, three brothers formed the Johnson & Johnson company in Brunswick, New Jersey. The company started as a manufacturer and seller of ready-to-use, sterilized surgical dressings.
In 1920, Earle Dickson was working at Johnson & Johnson as a cotton buyer. His wife Josephine complained she had trouble using cotton gauze on the minor cuts and burns caused by cooking and housework. Using bulky lengths of cotton and wrapping it in tape wasn’t working. She said she just needed something small that wouldn’t get in the way of her work.
Dickson hit on the idea of placing small cotton squares on a long adhesive strip. He covered the strip with crinoline and showed Josephine how to cut off a piece of the strip when she needed a bandage. She could wrap it around her finger and the adhesive would help it stay on.
The adhesive strip worked well, and Dickson told executives at his company about it. Shortly after, the first Band-Aid branded adhesive bandages were in stores. Several years later, Dickson became a vice president at the company. He worked there until his retirement.
First Band-Aids Roll Out
Johnson & Johnson saw potential in the bandages. The original Band-Aid design was not a hit with customers, however, because it still required them to cut the strips themselves. It also had to be made by hand, and consumers needed demonstrations to learn how to use it.
In 1924, Johnson & Johnson revamped the product’s design. In its new incarnation, the product came in pre-cut strips of varying sizes. It was also cut by machine, which made mass production much faster.
New Marketing Strategy
In 1926, the company released the first of the famous tin boxes that Band-Aids came in for decades. These tins are now collector’s items.
The company hit on a smart marketing strategy by giving out free tins of Band-Aids to Boy Scout troops all over the country. Families became familiar with the easy-to-use strips. During World War II, Johnson & Johnson also sent millions of Band-Aids to soldiers by including them in mess kits and first aid kits.
By 1961, Band-Aids were raking in $30 million in sales each year. In 1963, astronauts on the Mercury space flight carried Band-Aids with them. Barry Manilow wrote the famous “Stuck on Band-Aids” jingle for the company in 1975.
Today, Band-Aid is the second most widely used adhesive bandage brand in the country.
Suing a Parody Site
Band-Aid’s popularity means the company must be vigilant about improper use of its trademark or image.
In 2021, the company filed a trademark complaint against artist Danielle Baskin. Baskin created a parody service she called Brand-Aid, which she described as a way for companies to use bandages as “branding opportunities.” She registered a website with the domain name BrandedBandAid.com.
Baskin said it was a reaction to seeing countless companies and individuals attempting to brand everything, including healthcare during a pandemic. When Johnson & Johnson contacted her, Baskin replied that her site was clearly a parody site.
Johnson & Johnson took its case to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which hears international trademark cases. The WIPO ultimately found for Baskin, even though the panel did not support the artist’s claims that the site is clearly a parody.
“The Panel tends not to find Respondent’s arguments on this point terribly persuasive,“ the judges concluded. However, it also found there was no evidence to support Johnson & Johnson’s claim that the domain was registered in bath faith or that Baskin intended to profit from her use of the trademark.
The panel pointed out that Baskin has not shown any interest in selling or transferring the name. She has not used it to make money by pretending to be the maker of Band-Aids. There is also no evidence that she has a history of buying domain names resembling trademarks and then selling them.
As a result, “Complainant has failed its burden to demonstrate that the domain name was registered in bath faith.”
Read more on trademarks and domain names.
Other Noteworthy Lawsuits
Other lawsuits have involved different trademarked images.
In 2007, Johnson & Johnson, which owns Band-Aid, sued the American Red Cross for using a red cross on its first aid kits.
The lawsuit goes back to a licensing agreement the company made in 1895 with the well-known charity.
According to that agreement, both Johnson & Johnson and the Red Cross can use the red cross symbol on their first aid kits. The company can legally use it on commercial products, and the Red Cross can use it on first aid kits the Red Cross gives out during disaster relief efforts.
The Red Cross, however, began licensing its name and emblem to private, for-profit companies that made first aid and grooming kits. Sales from these items went to the Red Cross’s donation funds.
After several attempts to reach a resolution, Johnson & Johnson felt it had no choice except to sue the charity. A lawyer for the company told the Seattle PI, “We were very, very reluctant to take this step. We tried for many months to get some engagement from the Red Cross.”
In 2008, a court ruled in favor of the Red Cross. The decision pointed to the original 1895 agreement and noted that the agreement never specified how the Red Cross could use the symbol.
Read more on common word trademarks.
Will Its Trademark Stick?
Because of its enormous popularity, Band-Aid runs the risk of becoming a generic term for an adhesive bandage. The term “Band-aid” as a temporary solution is already part of everyday language. Will Band-Aid’s trademark stick? Nobody can predict the future, but we can be sure Band-Aid will do everything it can to preserve its brand.