The “ISIS” Problem: Addressing Negative Subliminal Messages with a Name Change
Even as the Isis Mobile Wallet service business rebranded itself last year, biopharmaceutical company Isis Pharmaceuticals told CNNMoney that it didn’t feel the need to change its name or stock ticker symbol from “ISIS.” Apparently they have had a change of heart after recent events because the biotech is now rethinking its decision to continue sharing its name with the militant terrorist group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (“ISIS”).
Isis Pharmaceuticals has a brand that has been built over more than 20 years around an Egyptian goddess, but worldwide when people hear the name ‘ISIS,’ it’s synonymous with the vicious Islamist jihad group. ISIS claimed responsibility for terror attacks that killed more than 120 people in Paris Friday. In the aftermath of the violence, people have been taken into custody, several armed suicide bombers identified and both France and Russia have carried out air strikes on targets in the militant organization’s stronghold in Raqqa, Syria. At the same time, Isis Pharmaceuticals saw its stock fall. The biotech company and the terror group are not connected and the events are not related; however, the company may expend resources explaining that they aren’t associated with the Islamic State group. Those resources may be better spent executing a rebrand.
Should Isis Pharmaceuticals rebrand? Negative name associations can be detrimental to a business brand even when the perceived connection is purely coincidental. On this case, the biotech has been keeping up with economic and market changes but the brand might not be keeping pace because of shared mindspace regarding ISIS.
Businesses rebrand to shed negative associations, and it can also be an excellent way for businesses to proactively improve customer relationships in key areas. We recently discussed the smart move RelayRides made by rebranding as Turo, complete with the short CVCV domain Turo.com. Isis Pharmaceuticals has a little bit of a “cognitive dissonance” between the company’s name and its products going on and it may be starting to show in its stock prices and bottom line. Moreover, although its domain name, isispharm.com, shares the traditional drug spelling, phonetically it sounds like a breeding ground for terrorists in the context of the jihadists.
Rebranding is not easy but if a company is serious is about improving customer relationships in key areas like brand awareness and emotional connectivity, it makes good sense. While Isis Pharmaceuticals controls how it presents its company image and its messages, control of the public’s mind is another matter altogether. There has to be a mental pause when the stock ticker symbol scrolls across the screen and an investor says they believe in ISIS’s future and that’s why they are making investments in the company. Isis Pharmaceuticals and similarly situated companies should seriously consider rebranding, complete with a new name and domain.
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