• Transform magazine
  • November 29, 2023


Science: the secret ingredient of a successful pharmaceutical brand


Katie Vanhoutte, head of strategy at FutureBrand Paris, explains how and why pharmaceutical brands are adapting their visual identities to fit an ever-evolving landscape.

Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic put corporate brands including the likes of AstraZeneca and Moderna in the spotlight, pharmaceutical companies have paid greater attention to how they’re perceived by the general public.

Renowned enterprises like J&J, GSK and Pfizer, for instance, have separated their consumer division from pharmaceuticals and medical devices in an attempt to simplify structures and increase focus, as consumers become more interested in, and aware of, the brands behind their healthcare products. 

In addition to the restructuring of their brand architectures, Pfizer and GSK have also transformed their corporate identities in recent years. In January 2021, Pfizer introduced an updated logo and visual language to mark a new era focused on science and research. Breaking through its visual confines, the pharmaceutical’s latest brand is a celebration of its life-saving achievements – including the mass production of penicillin, the elimination of the threat of polio and, more recently, the development of the Covid vaccine. 

A year later, in June 2022, GSK unveiled its new, tech-inspired brand language, which uses visuals reflective of the human immune system, as a nod to the healthcare company’s biopharma ambitions and its new purpose to unite science, technology and talent. 

In a very similar vein, international healthcare company Sanofi has recently unified its multiple business units under a single, modernised brand entity. Guided by a new purpose of “chasing the miracles of science to improve people’s lives”, Sanofi’s new corporate brand shifts its perception from a traditional ‘big pharma’ to a modern healthcare provider dedicated to transforming the practice of medicine.

While Pfizer, GSK and Sanofi are different entities, their rebrands have one thing in common – a renewed focus on science as a lever for change. But not the kind of science that is distant, filled with jargon and difficult to understand. Quite the contrary. The three narratives are much more accessible, building proximity and inclusion between their corporate brands and stakeholders. By putting science front and centre, while also making it easily digestible, these corporations hope to unlock trust from consumers, pride from employees and, last but not least, funding from investors. 

Interestingly, the renewed identities present a contemporary take on pharmaceutical branding, which borrows cues from other industries – particularly technology. If in the past the sector relied heavily on clinical and outdated marcomms – often perpetuated through generic stock images and impersonal trade materials – today, they take inspiration from social tech companies to create marketing materials that are dynamic and user-friendly.

After all, social technologies are probably the most ingrained and intuitive products in our day-to-day lives. 

This tech-flavoured approach to visual identity results from a challenge most pharmaceutical companies have historically experienced – that of internal branding complexities making their way outside the corporate realm, ultimately creating confusion. Today healthcare companies exhibit a growing consensus that simplicity is essential in a time of unprecedented distraction – which is why they’re pairing simplified and streamlined brand architectures with similarly simplified and streamlined visual identities.

It won’t be surprising if other pharmaceutical brands follow the steps taken by GSK, Pfizer and Sanofi in the near future. The sector has the potential to become one of the most dynamic references in transformative branding, not least because of the millions of people – from employees to consumers and investors – it impacts in such a profound way. Science will continue to be front and centre, and whilst AI will undoubtedly play a role in how these brands evolve, humans will still have an important say in it – especially if brands are to resonate with, well, humans.