What's in a Big Pharma name? Abbott aims to find out with international branding push

Abbott Laboratories ($ABT) is already one of the biggest drugmakers in emerging markets. But as these fast-growing countries attract more investment from Big Pharma, Abbott wants to make sure its products stay in the forefront. So, it's rolling out a new branding campaign to cozy up with consumers and amp up its international name recognition.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, Abbott is taking a corporate branding campaign global, launching ads in subways in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and creating a Wi-Fi channel there for subway riders to listen to TED talks on their cellphones. Last month, Abbott helped sponsor the TedX Gateway convention in Mumbai, setting up an "Abbott Hive" room that showcased new health technologies. The company is also planning to roll out branded materials in China in the coming months.

The branding push falls in line with Abbott's numbers, as the company derives 70% of its sales outside of the U.S. and nearly 40% in emerging markets, Scott Stoffel, senior director of external communications at Abbott, told FiercePharmaMarketing. The company is creating a new "playbook" to build its global identity, using everything from sponsorships to thought leadership content to reach consumers and boost its sales.

"Brand is an investment in growth, not only in Abbott's growth, but in the growth of health and achievement of people around the world," Stoffel said. "We want people to know Abbott when they choose our nutritional and pharmaceutical products, and our medical devices."

Abbott has experienced its fair share of changes since spinning off its pharmaceuticals business to AbbVie ($ABBV) in 2013, expanding its global footprint and forging a $5.3 billion deal with Mylan ($MYL) to sell off a stable of aging drugs in mature markets.

The company is also one of many that have turned to branded generics to boost their bottom lines and beef up their operations in emerging markets. In May, Abbott snatched up Chile's CFR Pharmaceutical for $3 billion, eyeing double-digit sales growth over the next several years. In June, Abbott shelled out $495 million for VeroPharm, a fast-growing Russian generics maker, to expand its footprint in the country. And that's after its 2010 deal for Piramal Healthcare's branded generics business, which made it the biggest drugmaker in India overnight.

The company's focus on pushing the Abbott name, rather than particular drug brands, is a departure in life sciences; in most markets, drugmakers and med tech outfits have been a "house of brands" focused on individual products, Barbara Kahn, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School told the WSJ. But as more companies vie for the hearts of consumers in emerging markets, a strategy centered on the corporate brand can pay off. A Big Pharma name can go a long way in selling a product, and consumer confidence is key to racking up sales, Stoffel told FiercePharmaMarketing.

"Abbott is a much more consumer-focused company today and consumers are thinking of health in a very different way--from health as treating disease to health as living not just longer but better," Stoffel said. "Abbott is revealing the core and character of what we are doing so that people--consumers and other stakeholders--can trust how we are enabling them to achieve that health."

Abbott isn't alone in its recent branding approach. Pharma giants like Pfizer ($PFE) are also hopping on the corporate-image bandwagon, creating new campaigns to boost their global profiles. In July, Pfizer mounted a new push for its "Get Old" campaign, which the company launched two years ago to get consumers to discuss their fear of aging. Pfizer hoped to target a younger generation with its expanded campaign, and to chalk up some goodwill; the company's research showed that consumers' who visited the "Get Old" website walked away with a 55-percentage-point improvement in their perceptions of Pfizer.

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