Corporate Branding In Pharma: An Evolving Strategy In The Emerging Scenario

Pharma advertisements in the mass media do not appear too frequently in India, for various reasons. Though few and far between, whenever these appear are mostly blunt and boring.

In that context, an interesting advertisement of a global pharma major featured in the May 25, 2015 Mumbai edition of the ‘Times of India’ arrested my curious attention.

The Ad does not talk about any medicine, nor does it caution us about or prevention of any disease. It does not even present the laundry lists of symptoms, urging us to rush to a doctor, whenever we experience any of those.

Though I was rushing thorough the pages of a bunch of newspapers at that time, under constraint of meeting an important deadline, the advertisement did prompt me to go into it. My eyes unknowingly followed the creative delivery of an intangible, yet unique ‘life style’ value proposition: “Life. To the fullest.” This was packaged with an innovative mix of intelligent copy writing and selection of emotive visuals with soft play of colors.

With a crisp copy, the Ad fondly takes one to the days of childhood, as it whispers…

“Remember when you were a child? The world was there just for you, to explore with bold and unbridled curiosity. A feeling of invincibility. Health fuels this state of mind, no matter your age.”

It then guides one’s attention to the corporate brand that commits to fulfill this promise and again with a cool swish tone:

“Abbott is about the power of health. We create new solutions – across the spectrum of health, for all stages of life. So every day can be just another play day.”

An innovative global ‘Corporate Branding’ strategy:

‘Wall Street Journal (WSJ)’ reported in December 2014 that in Rio de Janeiro, the same company created a WiFi channel for subway riders to listen to TED talks on their cellphones.

In Mumbai too, the Company has reportedly helped sponsor the TEDx Gateway convention, where there was an “Abbott Hive” room for participants to see new health technologies and meet speakers.

The WSJ article also underscored, “emerging markets accounted for about 40 percent of Abbott’s US$21.8 billion total sales n 2013. The sector will rise to about half of Abbott’s revenue after Mylan Inc. completes the acquisition of Abbott’s business that sells generic drugs in developed markets.”

Abbott reportedly planned to sell its generics business in the developed markets outside the United States to Mylan, retaining its generic brands in the fast-growing emerging markets.

Besides the above print Ad, I also noticed Abbott’s outdoor ‘Corporate Branding’ campaign in a couple of hoardings on Marine Drive and the Western Express Highway of Mumbai.

Just an example:

Before proceeding further, let me hasten to add that I have no intention, reason or motive to highlight any particular company’s marketing campaign, directly or indirectly, other than using it just as an example.

I reckon, this might leave a catalytic impact on an evolving frontier with a newer approach to ‘Corporate Branding’ within the global pharma industry in general and India in particular.

Such pragmatic and innovative strategic approach to create a novel corporate pharma marketing platform is indeed interesting. The domain experts in this area would be keenly watching its progress and would try to assess the net outcome of this seemingly cutting edge value creation process, on the pharma business as a whole.

It assumes greater significance as the process eventually aims at connecting with the consumers directly, creating an intangible value based robust cerebral link to overall brand portfolio offerings.

‘Corporate Branding’ versus ‘Product Branding’:

Corporate branding is broadly defined and explained as, “The practice of promoting the brand name of a corporate entity, as opposed to specific products or services. The activities and thinking that go into corporate branding are different from product and service branding because the scope of a corporate brand is typically much broader.”

Product branding, on the other hand, is “a marketing strategy wherein a business promotes and markets an individual product without the company name being at the center in the advertising or promotional campaigns.”

The success parameters:

Corporate branding is considered successful, “when consumers hear or see the name of the company they will associate, with a unique value and positive experiences. No matter what product or service the corporation offers, the corporate name is always an influence.”

If I am required to cite just one example out of many, and outside the pharma industry, I would say, ‘Apple’ has been established as a powerful corporate brand that focuses on the strength of its name as much as the features of any ‘Apple’ products.

The products usually attract a premium:

For a successful corporate brand, the name would immediately evoke a positive reaction in the consumers’ mind, without any detailed list of product features, and for which many consumers would be willing to pay a premium price, without any grumble.

Would it move the needle?

That’s really something to watch for. However, it holds that promise, undoubtedly.

The above types of corporate branding could help the concerned companies to significantly dilute the negative perception on a section of ‘Big Pharma’ constituents, acquired over a long period of time, though some of these players keep creating it even today, brazenly. This is happening as some of them continue faltering to even ‘talk the walk’ and most others do not probably want to ‘walk the talk’ either.

That said, the strength of the corporate brand image and the trust thus created on it would help building a strong positive image for the entire brand portfolio that the company offers, especially on brand promises, including efficacy, safety and overall high quality standards.

Broader impact of creation of a strong positive corporate public image with direct connects with consumers could be profound from sustainable business growth perspective, especially in a country like India.

Thus, innovative corporate branding strategies with direct connects to the consumers, like what we are discussing now, may help repositioning the pharma players as trusted healthcare partners.

‘Corporate branding’ initiatives of global pharma companies:

As reported by the ‘Wall Street Journal’, examples of initiatives taken towards this direction by some global pharma majors, besides Abbott, are as follows:

Pfizer’s “Get Old” campaign, though predominantly Internet and social media based, is aimed partly to strengthen its corporate reputation. With this campaign the company intends giving a new push to get people talking about their fear of aging, “Face your fears” being the company’s motto with its “Get Old” campaign.

Pfizer is reportedly also planning to showcase itself as “partners in health over a lifetime,” through corporate branding campaigns.

Johnson & Johnson launched a corporate advertising campaign, under the slogan “For All You Love,” focused on consumers, reportedly after the company faced recalls of children’s Tylenol and other over-the-counter medicines.

Eli Lilly & Co also has reportedly been planning to revamp its corporate brand.

Recently Biogen Idec changed back from the decade-old merger name to its original name, as the company would now be called just “Biogen”. The company used this name change to signal a new direction for the company.

The announcement of the change in name and the new logo was creatively used by Biogen to communicate the company’s broader focus beyond the multiple sclerosis treatments, which it is best known for, with the inclusion of Alzheimer’s and ALS treatments in its research and marketing portfolios.


All these boil down to the important point, that the pharma marketers would ultimately be prompted to ponder, as the industry moves on.

Keeping that in mind, they may now consider brain storming with an open mind to crystallize their thought on: Whether for sustainable excellence in pharma business, the respective companies should focus on corporate branding campaigns, separately altogether, with strong and direct consumer emotional connects.

Thereafter, strengthening association between the ‘Corporate’ and ‘Product’ brands at appropriate times, directly or indirectly, could well be a strategic call.

It has been amply proved that a robust corporate brand, created painstakingly over time, would evoke stronger respect, trust and loyalty of the consumers.

While navigating through unpredictable business environment facing tough headwinds, or during product mishaps, if any, such favorable disposition of the consumers to the company as such, would prove to be an invaluable asset, in the long run. Nestle could well be an example after its Maggi saga in India.

For this reason, I reckon; it may be prudent keeping product brands at arm’s-length from the corporate brand. This could, of course, be leveraged as a dependable cushion, if situation so warrants. Otherwise ‘Corporate Branding’ campaigns should fly solo, as these keep reaping tangible and intangible sustainable significant returns for the company, over a long period of time.

To sum up, ‘Corporate Branding’, though currently is an evolving strategy in the emerging pharma scenario, shows immense potential to spread its wings to fly. Some global pharma players have already started initiating it in different parts of the world. Pharma industry in India too is expected to catch up with this new strategic ball game… sooner.

By: Tapan J. Ray

Disclaimer: The views/opinions expressed in this article are entirely my own, written in my individual and personal capacity. I do not represent any other person or organization for this opinion.