Humanity comes to corporate branding
For over a year after the pandemic began, I paid no attention to at-home COVID-19 tests. As far as I considered it, people only needed to concern themselves with testing at the onset of symptoms or before traveling as a precaution. Then omicron hit, cases surged to record-setting numbers, and a collective sense of renewed paranoia settled in. Suddenly, I was addicted to testing myself at least a couple of days a week, and I wasn’t the only one. A “tsunami of demand” caused entire ships to sell out in a matter of hours.
At-home tests were becoming scarce, so at first, I was willing to settle for anything available, no matter the brand. Until, that is, I got my test on a stick by Abbott. Once I saw the name embedded in a magenta bar across the top and the lollipop shape of the test, it was the only one I could trust. Even the brightly colored packaging of the “on / go” brand tests paled in comparison. After experiencing the Abbott test, every other test felt like a false negative.
In 2019, no one could have guessed we would be choosing the brand of our vaccines, but the pandemic has drastically changed our perceptions of the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. Previously unknown brands started reaching out to consumers directly, and faced the challenges of making themselves more attractive. With a new generation of activist consumers driving demand, even the biggest names in the business are pulling out all the stops — from lollipops to tears — and reaching out to build brand equity by making themselves more desirable.
FROM UNKNOWN BEHEMOTHS TO HOUSEHOLD NAMES
Before the pandemic, people might have known Abbott through names like Similac baby formula and ZonePerfect bars. Abbott, like Procter & Gamble or Unilever, was a corporate name, largely unknown to consumers. As a corporate brand, Abbott controlled a stable of endorsed brands, industrial medical products, and research labs, but on its own, it was never a widely recognized brand. When COVID hit and manufacturers scrambled to produce test kits, Abbott’s lollipop design distinguished it from competitors in more ways than one. The rectangular paper card making the lollipop’s head was similar to an existing format it was already producing for other tests, which meant Abbot was able to ramp up production right away with fewer supply-chain challenges.
Abbott’s efforts to become a more visible brand follow a trend of big names in the pharmaceutical industry taking center stage since COVID. Most people say they got the “Pfizer” or “Modern” shot. The big pharma companies are enjoying a branding bonanza, and with it enhanced equity. While a 2019 Gallup poll showed only 27% of Americans had a positive opinion of the pharmaceutical industry before the pandemic hit, approval ratings according to a poll in March 2021 were up to 56%. Instead of going back into hiding as the pandemic winds down, big pharma brands must continue relating to consumers transparently to maintain their new reputations as saviors.
GETTING EMOTIONAL HITS HOME
While some major corporate brands have only recently made their move to become more visible and desirable to their consumers, P&G has been doing it for years. While the multinational corporation may not seem like the brand to take Olympic advertising by storm, its Thank You, Mom (TYM) campaign was a viral success, even years after the launch of its first commercial. I still remember how I felt when I first saw their 60-second ad honoring moms during the 2010 Olympic Games. I cried. Then, I did what everyone else did: shared the commercial with a few dozen other moms. They all cried and shared it again.
Before 2010, consumers had no reason to relate to P&G, a name known only to investors and marketers, but everyone could relate to having or being a mom. Creating that emotional connection within consumers turned their largely unknown name into a household one. P & G’s TYM campaign was the most successful in its 175-year history, boosting company familiarity by 22%. It also increased consumer favorability by 13% and trust by 10%. Even if we never use anything branded P&G in our kitchens, laundry rooms, or showers, we know we can count on its 34 sub-brands — including Pampers, Ariel, Bounce, Tide Always, and Pantene — to stand behind one message: Mothers deserve a medal.
MAJOR BRANDS KNOW TO MEET CORPORATE EXPECTATIONS
While adding the Abbott name across the top of the lollipop card and P&G driving us to tears may be a coincidence, it may also be part of an intentional strategy to deliver a brand promise to millions of evolving consumers. This is nothing new. Ethical consumerism has been growing as a mainstream movement for decades. Unilever launched its Sustainable Living Plan in 2010, turning its “U” logo into a symbol of sustainability. In 2019, GlaxoSmithKline blended technology, traditional art, and a condition that affected millions with “A breath of life,” an innovative app designed to raise awareness and increase early detection of COPD.
Today’s consumers want the brands they love to be transparent and take stands that matter, and smart brands are responding. More than just psychographic or demographic data points, consumers are humans with emotions. We want to desire our brands, and the accuracy of a test or the detergent proven to keep laundry smelling fresh is no longer enough to give us that on its own. We need a lollipop stick to remove our anxiety about a scary test and put our inner child at ease. We want them to pay homage to our success stories beyond the workplace so we can feel like the super moms we are. To adapt to these new consumer expectations, even major corporations know they need to seduce us at every touchpoint possible and prove themselves worthy of our desire.
With a fierce entrepreneurial spirit and creative drive, Ester has built hundreds of brands of all sizes and nationalities.