Time to take your shot, pharma: Pandemic offers best chance to reframe the conversation, brand expert says

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Can pharma rehabilitate its reputation as COVID-19 bumps its estimation in consumers' eyes? It may be now or never, one brand expert says. (Pixabay)

It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the pharma industry. Reputation and trust are at an all-time high as consumers look to drugmakers for vaccines and treatments that can clear a path out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Don’t break out the champagne just yet, though, warns one branding expert. The door may be open to long-term image repair, but pharma companies have to make real changes, said Interbrand Health Executive Director Barry Silverstein.

For too long, the industry has been stuck playing defense on controversial issues like drug pricing, the opioid crisis and DTC advertising, he said. If pharma really wants to parlay consumer goodwill into a lasting opinion shift, companies need to lean into their mission and purpose.

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“This is a moment in time for a reset and for a new dialogue—one that emphasizes people, one that is mission-based and one that’s inspiring to their employees, the public and investors,” Silverstein said.

He pointed to Apple as an example. Interbrand’s most valued global brand year after year, Apple doesn’t aim for market domination, but instead focuses on creating products that improve people’s lives.

Silverstein suggests Big Pharma companies strike a similar tone. The innovation and research that have created real solutions for diseases like HIV and cancer go even further now as it applies to COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, he noted.

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His advice to pharma companies? Lean into the corporate brand and take a stand. Show intent for doing good in the world and take advantage, in the best way, of the fact that pharma now holds the keys to potentially ending the global crisis.

“For the last several years, it’s been frustrating to watch an industry being pilloried for a number of practices that have taken the spotlight away from all of the good things that they do,” Silverstein said. “I don’t think you could ask for a better chance to reframe the conversation.”