Moderna taps Ogilvy for first chief brand officer as marketing plans await full FDA approval

Kate Cronin Global CEO Ogilvy Health
Kate Cronin joins Moderna as its first brand officer, moving from Ogilvy Health after a 16-year career at the agency. (Ogilvy Health)

As Moderna preps a marketing strategy for its COVID-19 vaccine—in fact, its only commercial product—it is hiring its first-ever chief brand officer. Kate Cronin joins this month from Ogilvy Health, where she was global CEO.

While Moderna is running at full speed with vaccine sales, manufacturing and distribution, its emergency use authorization limits its marketing and brand efforts. Moderna submitted for full approval June 1, but the FDA has not indicated how quickly it will act.

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in the hiring announcement that he looks forward to working with Cronin “to amplify Moderna’s story and the promise of mRNA science for patients.” 

One step already recently cinched up is the vaccine’s brand name Spikevax, now approved in Europe.

RELATED: Moderna locks up Spikevax name in Europe, joins Pfizer's Comirnaty in wait for official brand approval in U.S.

Cronin talked to Fierce Pharma last fall about vaccines and the pandemic in an interview after she was named global CEO at Ogilvy. She pointed to the reputation boost and potential opportunities pharma companies gained from their quick response to the pandemic by developing vaccines and treatments. However, she added, they can’t simply rest on innovation laurels.

“Pharmaceutical companies recognize they have to justify their societal impact and that it’s important for customers—patients and HCPs—to understand what they stand for,” she said. “The word innovation alone doesn’t differentiate one pharma company from another; it needs to be deeper than that.”

She’ll likely be put to the test on that front at Moderna. The small biotech is running largely on its COVID-19 vaccine innovation for now, competing with global behemoths like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson with well-established marketing, sales and branding resources.

RELATED: The inside story behind Pfizer and BioNTech's new vaccine brand name, Comirnaty

One advantage Moderna has as a new brand to consumers is that it comes without Pfizer's and J&J’s history—and, sometimes, baggage from issues like past lawsuits or drug pricing.

In the fall interview, Cronin told a story about Thanksgiving dinners where, before the COVID-19 pandemic, her older relatives who knew she worked in the pharma business would ask, “Why is this drug so expensive and what are you going to do about it, Kate?”

She joked that at the upcoming Thanksgiving she anticipated they’d be asking “When are the vaccines going to become available, and would you take this one or that one?”

At least this Thanksgiving, she’ll know how to answer that last question.