• Molecular Ideas

Pfizer: Erecting a New Brand Identity

Updated: Apr 10, 2021

Welcome to Molecular Ideas, and thank you for sharing your time with us! Today, we examine the aftermath and cost of Pfizer's major rebranding effort - and discuss where the pharmaceutical giant intends to go from here.


"If your erection lasts more than four hours, call your doctor."


Okay, but what if your brand lasts over 71 years?


This famous adverse event line from Pfizer's Viagra® commercials is just one small part of what made an industry-defining advertising campaign. With Lipitor®, Xeljanz®, and dozens of other industry-defining products, Pfizer has long been a household brand. The common factor between every one of Pfizer's drug commercials, packages, and press announcements has been the symbol of a little blue pill.


Until recently.

On January 6th, Pfizer revamped its new global brand identity, drastically altering this staple brand identity for the for the first time in 71 years. For the record, there have been some changes since the company moved away from the original 'seal' image in 1940, but all of the changes have been relatively subtle refreshes.

It's fair to say that Pfizer's logo is easily one of the most recognized corporate symbols in the world. It should be. The company has hundreds of novel drugs in its portfolio that save patient lives, their venture arm is endowed with $600 million in capital to partner with early-stage life science companies, and they've blazed a trail to create the first COVID-19 vaccine (along with Moderna). Given how many ads, labels, and press releases that little logo is on, the brand's equity and recognition are staggering.


So why change it? And at what cost?


The first question is fairly straightforward to answer. Pfizer has been repositioning itself over the last decade to "no longer [be] in the business of just treating diseases — we're curing and preventing them." as said by CEO Albert Bourla.


Changing your brand to reflect a new direction or purpose is nothing new, even in the life sciences. Axovant (a Roivant company) famously rebranded to Sio Gene Therapies after a phase II clinical trial tanked - and results were misreported. In addition to major shakeups in staff, the company refocused and rebranded. Turing Pharmaceuticals, known best for the Daraprim® price increase and its former CEO Martin Shkreli, rebranded to Vyera Pharmaceuticals.


Of course, these are both examples of rebranding in response to a company's public profile sinking like the Titanic. Pfizer is decidedly not in that category. Their change is internally driven, based on how they will serve the market moving forward.


With that in mind, let's take a look at the other end of the spectrum. What else happened in late January that might support Pifzer's argument to rebrand?


You guessed it: COMIRNATY®, Pfizer & BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine.


Pfizer timed the launch of its new brand with the rollout of their vaccine. As a long-anticipated front runner in the race, the vaccine approval brought has about a global sigh of relief. Let's now take a look at our second question - at what cost has Pfizer rebranded?


An organization as large as Pfizer will likely have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars - if not billions - to comply with global regulations as a result of this rebranding effort. Every label, advertisement, and webpage must be updated with this new visual identity. That's not just the logo - it's the fonts, color schemes, symbolism, etc. - everything that can reinforce Pfizer's new look and feel. They'll also have to redesign various templates for presentations, documents, and other materials to accommodate this shift. Plus, this takes time, money, and effort to have people adapt to it.


That said, I'd argue that near-continuous, global free media coverage of a potentially pandemic-abating vaccine will help offset those costs.


In the time we have left, let's take a closer look at the logo itself to see if it aligns with the company's new direction:

The first thing that jumps out to me is the new color palette. Previously, Pfizer had its distinct monochromatic palette. That said - the two shades of blue in the logo and other six in the broader visual identity allows them to represent the emotional impact of their promise to save lives by preventing and curing disease. Colors have strong emotional associations. Blues are commonly used in pharmaceutical branding because they connote authority, trust, and innovation as you move from dark to light shades, respectively. Pfizer is relying on these emotional associations, but deviating just enough from typically used shades to differentiate from other brands.


Since the font is largely similar to past iterations, let's move on to the icon. Recall what the CEO, Albert Bourla, said:


"After 171 years, we arrive at a new era. A time of extraordinary focus on science and dedication to patients. Pfizer is no longer in the business of just treating diseases — we're curing and preventing them."


There's one thing that makes Pfizer's new logo particularly clever. By transitioning from their well-known brand image - the little blue pill - to a double helix, they symbolize their new focus in how they will fulfill their mission - gene therapy and nucleic acid-based vaccines like COMIRNATY®. Plus, Pfizer has maintained their simple, modern, and clean aesthetic by not complicating the double helix. They've interweaved them simply to show the transition from one focus (treating diseases) to two (curing and preventing them).


Individually, the effects are subtle. That's what makes it unique. As your own company, technology, and team evolve, you will have many opportunities to refresh your brand or rebrand altogether. These opportunities can be critical to internally and externally reinforce a dramatic shift in direction of how you will work to help patients, practitioners, and payers.


Over the last month, Pfizer's rebranding initiative has generally been praised. The gauntlet has been thrown to mark a new age ahead. Now it is up to them to realize their promise to the world.


What are your favorite life science brands? Have you experienced any rebranding nightmares? Sign up to share your story in the comments!


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