On November 06, 2015, the District Court of Delaware of the United States (US) passed a temporary restraining order barring Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories (DRL) from selling in the US its generic version of AstraZeneca’s blockbuster anti-ulcerant drug Nexium, with immediate effect.
This temporary order came in response to the petition moved by the drug innovator – AstraZeneca, objecting to the use of purple color in DRL’s generic equivalent of Nexium, launched in September 2015.
According to an estimate, this generic formulation could fetch a post tax profit of around US$25 to US$35 million to DRL in 2016. Nevertheless, the Delaware court order is pending a further hearing. The court has also asked both the companies to suggest the next course of action.
When color becomes an integral part of brand value creation:
AstraZeneca’s effective branding of ‘purple color pills’ Nexium and Prilosec has helped the company to obtain this temporary restraining court order, which states:
“As a result of such promotional efforts, there is undisputed evidence that the media and the public associate the color purple with AstraZeneca and its Prilosec and Nexium products.”
The Court observed, though DRL product is not identical to AstraZeneca’s Nexium, still could confuse patients due to its association with the purple color.
In this context, it is worth noting, though a couple of other generic Nexium capsules are available in the US, none is purple in color. Teva’s capsules are green and blue and Mylan’s are white in color.
Can a right be established on branding ‘color’?
It appears so. In its Complaint to the Court against DRL, AstraZeneca (AZ) argued in favor of its successful branding of Nexium with ‘Purple Color, as follows:
- AZ brand has offered relief to sufferers of severe heartburn and other disorders caused by stomach acid reflux through its “Purple Pills” Prilosec® and Nexium®, known as “The Purple Pill®.”
- AZ has devoted significant resources over the years to advertise and promote its Prilosec® and Nexium® purple pills using the ‘look for’ purple advertising.
- The preference for purple was purely for branding purposes—purple contributes nothing to the safety or efficacy of AZ’s products.
- AZ has continuously sold Nexium® from 2001 to present in purple colored capsules with either two or three gold-colored bands displayed on the purple capsules.
- Thus, AZ’s Purple Pills have been famous for many years through extensive advertising both to doctors and patients and extensive publicity, among other reasons.
- If DRL is not enjoined from using the color purple, DRL’s purple generic pills are likely to cause confusion among consumers and others and are likely to dilute the distinctiveness of AZ’s federally registered purple color trademarks.
- DRL’s attempt to free-ride off the fame of AZ’s famous Purple Pills poses imminent irreparable harm to both AZ and the public if not enjoined.
I would like to remind the readers at this point that Pfizer also did branding of Viagra keeping the color of the pill as one of the key ingredients, as it is also well-known as the ‘Blue Pill’, across the world.
Does color of the pill matter to patients?
In this regard, on July 15, 2014, an interesting study titled, “Burden of Changes in Pill Appearance for Patients Receiving Generic Cardiovascular Medications After Myocardial Infarction”, published in the journal of ‘Annals of Internal Medicine’, wanted to find out whether non persistent use of generic drugs among patients with cardiovascular disease after Myocardial Infarction (MI) is associated with the inconsistent appearance of their medications.
The study concluded, “Variation in the appearance of generic pills is associated with the nonpersistent use of these essential drugs after MI among patients with cardiovascular disease.”
Or in other words, the researchers found, 30 percent or more patients are likely to stop taking their medication because the unexpected change, can be confusing.
Impact of a branding strategy with color and design as integral parts:
Even after a product goes off-patent, ‘Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)’ could still protect aspects of a pill design, which are not associated with product functioning.
The above study finds that in true sense, the shape and color of the tablets or capsules are very much intimately associated with the functional aspect of the product, as these characteristics established through effective branding exercise of the original product, help promoting patient compliance to various drugs, which is so important in combating serious ailments.
Effective branding with extrinsic factors:
The above important research finding clearly establishes that even the extrinsic product features like, color and design, when used in an effective branding strategy, could have critical medical relevance for the patients.
Such clever pharma branding strategies are not just restricted to:
- AstraZeneca’s “little purple pill” – Nexium
- Or Pfizer’s “blue-diamond-shaped tablet” – Viagra.
There are many other examples of making extrinsic product features as effective branding tools. A few of these are as follows:
- GlaxoSmithKline’s craftily designed a “tilt-tab” for its Parkinson’s disease brand Requip. This design makes it easier for the patients to pick up the tablets. Requip “tilt-tab” has been modeled with unconventional 5 sides and a pointed fulcrum that prevents it from lying flat.
- Diovan blister packs of Novartis with calendar markings for pills, improved patient compliance significantly, as a research study established.
- Special caps are now reportedly available that fit on most prescription drug bottles, containing a wireless chip that communicates with a light plug. The cap pulses orange light, when the patient forgets to take a pill.
An article published in the ‘Outsourcing-Pharma.com’ on March 11, 2014 states, Philadelphia based Colorcon, that works with many pharma manufacturers, both innovator and generic players, to shape and coat their tablets, has a library of 40,000 different colors and shapes of samples to choose from.
The color and design war in pharma branding has just begun:
The importance of color and design as a pharma brand identity has started being realized today. The latest DRL case involving the color of AstraZeneca’s Nexium, close on the heels of similar other cases related to the blue color of Pfizer’s Viagra, has thrown open a critical question.
This query wants a specific answer, whether IP protection on Trademark would get extended to distinctive colors, which through branding initiatives have become strongly associated with a specific brand. Possibly the unprecedented lawsuit on the subject by AstraZeneca against DRL would ultimately settle the legal aspect of the issue, decisively.
Nevertheless, the importance of color and design as two key ingredients of successful pharma branding would remain unchallenged from ‘creative marketing’ stand point.
There are market research studies that suggest that around 80 percent of visual information for any brand is related to color and design. Pharmaceuticals are no exceptions. Thus, these important extrinsic product features can be strategically leveraged with the intrinsic product benefits in a branding exercise, to create a cutting edge value synergy.
In today’s environment of innovative branding strategy, the state of art tablet color and design technologies may be appropriately utilized by the pharma players to successfully build and also to get limited brand protection, as happened in the case of Nexium of AstraZeneca.
The research findings, as mentioned above, that such type of branding has important medical relevance too, may be construed as an additional silver lining to this exciting process.
In my view, the aforesaid strategy would make enormous sense for branded generic drugs too, though with tailor-made approaches, which could well be a different discussion altogether.
Keeping all this in perspective, I reckon, innovative use of the power of color and design in pharma ‘branding’ exercise, including a comprehensive communication strategy with appropriate platforms, could provide an important leading edge for significant commercial success of a brand.
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.