Defensive Strategy

A Branding Problem for ISIS Pharmaceuticals

17 Nov 2015  

Yesterday, ISIS Pharmaceuticals announced that it was considering changing its name in light of the attack on Paris.

Wade Walke, vice-president for corporate communications, told CNNMoney, “Even though people know we’re not associated with the terrorist group, the name itself has so many negative connotations. It’s obviously not getting better over time.”

My reaction: what took you so long?

There is no question that ISIS Pharmaceuticals has to embrace a new brand. It should have changed the name long ago.

ISIS — the terror group — is a powerful brand. It has broad awareness and clear associations. The brand has a distinct visual language, including a tone of voice, and the team behind it embraces the power of digital media to keep the brand in the forefront of people’s minds. ISIS rivals Hitler as a brand that stands for evil, violence, and hate.

The amazing thing is that ISIS Pharmaceuticals is only now seriously thinking about changing its name. When asked about the question last year, ISIS responded that since it didn’t sell directly to consumers, the brand didn’t really matter.

Of course, the brand does matter. B to B companies need to think about branding just as much as B to C companies. Your brand is important for attracting employees, partners, and investors. A strong brand is a valuable asset; people are proud to work for great brands. Recent research has shown that people will work for less money if the company they work for has a name that carries prestige or cultivates a sense of pride in its employees.

It is absurd to think ISIS Pharmaceuticals could keep its name. Stick with ISIS?

* Recruiting: “Come work with ISIS. It will look great on your resume!”

* Company morale: “We are all so proud to work at ISIS.”

* Investors: “Everyone likes to see the ISIS stock ticker symbol on the investment report.”

* Sponsorships: “This conference is sponsored by the good people at ISIS.”

The problem for ISIS Pharmaceuticals is that it takes time to change a name. The marketing team is scrambling and late.

When your brand develops negative associations, it is a problem, whether you created those associations or not.

3 Responses

  1. davetuchler says:

    Perhaps the hard part is yet to come – – what to change to, and how to make sure your audience follows you. Several decades ago, of course, AYDS changed its name – – to Diet AYDS – – and promptly went out of business.

  2. Richard Low says:

    Very well said!

  3. emitahill says:

    What is tragic is that I have friends whose parents chose Isis for their name, the name of a beautiful goddess, more than 40 years ago. ISIS is an abbreviation, not a real name, but this coincidence is very difficult. Not a commercial problem like that for the pharmaceutical company.

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