Merck or Merck KGaA? German Merck beefs up branding to (hopefully) end confusion

Merck KGaA CEO Karl-Ludwig Kley

Effective branding is important for any company. But it becomes even more important when you share a name with another company--especially when that other company is your rival.

That's long been the case for Merck KGaA, but despite its efforts to differentiate itself from global giant Merck ($MRK)--known as MSD outside the U.S.--doctors and patients are still getting confused, CEO Karl-Ludwig Kley told the Financial Times.

The German pharma's solution? Put more resources behind beefing up its brand, an initiative the company is working on as part of its 350th anniversary "Fit for 2018" program, spokesman Gangolf Schrimpf told FiercePharmaMarketing via email.

"The fact is that over many decades we underinvested in our brand," Kley told the paper. "We need to make people more aware of the fact there are two Mercks."

According to the Darmstadt-based drugmaker, the two companies have been separate ever since 1917, when one-time subsidiary Merck & Co.--established in 1887 with an office in New York--set off on its own. But though stateside Merck has grown to pass its one-time parent--it's now more than three times larger, with 2014 revenues of $42.24 billion--its counterpart isn't ready to hand over a moniker it's borne since Friedrich Jacob Merck founded the company in the 17th century.

Since the split, though, problems have continued to surface, making headlines last year when demonstrators showed up outside Merck KGaA's London offices to protest against Big Pharma's lobbying against new generic drug rules in South Africa. Then there was the time Facebook mistakenly let Merck & Co. hijack Merck KGaA's page, debuting at the address that the German drugmaker had already locked up. And more than once, clinical trial data have been mixed up, resulting in a situation Kley called "not satisfactory for anyone."

And that's where the new investments come in. While its competitor may have rights to the title in the world's largest market, Merck KGaA has it in 150 others--including fast-growing markets like China and Brazil, where the company hopes to be the No. 1 Merck in the eyes of consumers.

The initiative "is aimed at strengthening the value of the Merck brand and increasing our global visibility and reputation vis-à-vis customers, partners and talents," Schrimpf said.

And hopefully, that'll be enough to sort out the issue, Kley said. "They have been our child so to speak," he told the Times. "The two companies are friendly. We are trying to work it out, but it's not easy."

- read the FT story

Special Reports: Top 15 pharma companies by 2014 revenue - Merck | Top 10 Drugmakers in Emerging Markets - Merck KGaA | Top 10 Pharma Companies in Social Media - Merck & Co.