Sanofi's simplified brand opens a fresh chapter as new strategy, pandemic help turn the page

A day before announcing its 2021 earnings Friday, Sanofi dropped some unexpected news: It was swapping  corporate logos and culling the Genzyme and Pasteur names as part of a unification push.

The corporate rebranding project started all the way back in the late summer of 2020, right in the dog days of the first pandemic wave, Christopher Williams, Sanofi's Head of Corporate Communications and Brand, said in an interview.​

“We originally focused on having a conversation with [Sanofi’s] leadership about a new purpose that unites the whole company," Williams said. "We have a history that is somewhat complex, given that we’ve had lots of mergers and acquisitions, and, as a result, we still had this branding architecture that included names like Genzyme and Pasteur.”

“Somewhat complex” is an understatement: The company merged with fellow France-based biopharma and former L’Oréal business Synthélabo back in 1999 to create Sanofi-Synthélabo. Five years later, after its $65 billion Aventis buyout, the name changed to Sanofi-Aventis.

Sanofi eventually dropped the Aventis moniker back in 2011, the same year it bought U.S. rare disease biotech Genzyme. With that deal, Sanofi named that unit Sanofi Genzyme and kept the legacy name Sanofi Pasteur—which had been in use for some 100 years—for its vaccine unit.

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Four different brands associated with one company over the past two decades. It's easy to see why Williams would say, “Our identity was a bit fragmented."

Plus, in 2019, Sanofi got a new CEO, Paul Hudson, and revamped its strategy. 

“We felt with the new business strategy, ‘Play to Win,’ and the new leadership, we really were on a path to being a different company," Williams said.

The initial conversation in 2020 about having a more unified vision for the company “really evolved” to align the new strategy and leadership to a new, unified Sanofi brand. Culling the “big names” of Genzyme and Pasteur was a “big step” and “not a decision we took lightly,” Williams said.

The company did its homework: Sanofi looked across the pharma industry at other drugmakers' branding efforts, including sub-branding. It also talked to people inside and outside the company about their perceptions of Sanofi brands, Williams said.

“Going forward with one common brand was simply expected of us, it turns out. Having brands within brands was just confusing,” he said.

Axing the Genzyme and Pasteur names was in no way linked to—or a harbinger of—any operational changes in these units. No staff cuts are on the horizon as a result of the rebranding, Williams said.

This doesn’t mean Sanofi is abandoning its legacy or turning away from its French roots. “We’re French, we’re European, we’re global," Williams said, and all of that heritage is still a central factor for the company within the rebranding.

Pandemic shifts focus to pharma

The fact that the rebranding effort happened during the pandemic also affected the thinking behind the changes. During COVID times, the likes of Pfizer and Moderna have become household names far ahead of the products they produce.

“The corporate brand is now more important in the pharma world than the separate brands [i.e., its products],” Williams said. “You don’t know the name of the COVID vaccine you got, but you’ll know which company made it."

"We wanted to have a brand that was more iconic, more recognizable," he went on to say, "and could better tell the story of what we’re doing.”

Let go of old logos

A major part of that is the logo. The new Sanofi is now lowercase, and Williams said this deliberately follows the softer approach major technology companies use, rather than the all-caps SANOFI used before. The new logo dispenses with the old one's circle of colored birds above the name, to make a more “simplified” design.

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The tail end of the S in Sanofi is slightly cut off and has a purple dot just at the edge. It's what Sanofi calls the “emerging ‘s’” and it comes with the “echo of a question mark,” Williams said. That's intended to connote the scientific journey "that, you hope, brings a 'eureka!' moment”—so it's not just hinting at a question mark, but an exclamation mark, too.

The S is also intentionally incomplete. “This is about not just scientific discovery, but our own modernization; we’re a work in progress, and so is science. That’s what we want to communicate with that emerging S.”

The logo work was done via Paris-based agency FutureBrand. Williams would not offer how much was spent on the project, saying “it’s tricky to answer that” because of the hybrid nature of using an agency along with its own internal hours working on the project.

“We have done this in a way that hasn’t required any trade-offs, so it hasn’t taken money away from our investment in people or science," he said.