Riding the wave of change in health

Reimagining an iconic brand identity is the kind of opportunity that every brand agency relishes. Despite the inevitable challenges: the emotional baggage, the degree of stakeholder alignment, and the level of public scrutiny – the opportunity to shape the future of brands that we all know is the pinnacle of our industry ambition. So, when a brand makes a change like this, we take notice.

Pfizer’s – fresh out of the blocks – rebrand signals a ‘new era’ for the company, with CEO Albert Bourla claiming “Pfizer is no longer in the business of just treating diseases – we’re curing and preventing them”. Elaborating further to explain the symbolism of the accompanying visual identity shift; “we are unlocking the pill to reveal Pfizer’s DNA: the power of science”. 

Boldly, or for some perhaps controversially, Pfizer has moved away from the blue pill shape that has been an integral part of its visual makeup since the 1950s. It has retained and expanded its blue colorway and kept the typeface in familiar territory but introduced an abstract, interlocking logo, inspired by DNA’s double helix structure. 

How bold is the overall change? Pfizer is an iconic brand, so was ideally placed to challenge pharma’s slightly predictable, corporate norms. Of course, there is a natural tension between balancing the familiar with the new. But while the brand strategy feels strong and relevant to our times, the creative execution is relatively staid.

Perhaps more importantly though, despite the cautious visual approach, the timing couldn’t be better – signalling the new story that they want to tell.

Like many of the most effective brand reviews, this marks the culmination of significant business changes and presents a leaner-looking business to the world. It unifies the changes to its consumer health business (which was combined with GSK in 2019) and caps off the merging of the Upjohn brands with Mylan to form Viatris in 2020. And if that wasn’t enough, it also underlines one of Pfizer’s most impactful years, capitalising on its newly acquired pandemic busting status, teaming up with BioNTech to produce the World’s first Covid-19 vaccine. 

So, with Pfizer riding a wave of change, with a new story to tell and a burgeoning share price thanks to its vaccine efforts – the new brand stands for something significant and substantial, it is not merely a cosmetic exercise.

Other brands and businesses should be taking note. The changes sweeping through healthcare are not limited to Pfizer, they should encourage brands to differentiate by restating their own purpose and rallying people around their own new narratives. 

There has been sustained disruption in Health and Pharma over the last few years – as a result of technology innovation, access to data, and shifts in the patient/physician dynamic. But, beyond a limited number of exceptions and some creative channel engagement, most healthcare brands have not dramatically evolved, sticking close to heritage and tradition. Most have yet to bridge the gap in meaning, access, and understanding that more informed and expectant patients and HCPs are looking for. 

The impact of the pandemic has accelerated these forces of change. Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca’s recent achievements in advancing vaccines could even start a shift of perception – away from the traditionally quite negative public view of ‘Big Pharma’. But there’s more work to be done by the brands individually, and by the sector collectively, to challenge the current category conventions and connect more profoundly with people. If there was ever a time to make these relationships stronger, it’s now.

Written by James March

Category Director, Health and Wellness