Isis Pharmaceuticals: When Your Good Name Is Sullied

ISISWhat would you do if Isis Pharmaceuticals Inc. were your name?

The biotech company, sadly, shared its name with the extremist terror group.  In fact, the 25-year-old company was named for Isis, an Egyptian goddess revered for healing and protection.

After the terror group ISIS claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, the company’s stock dropped sharply.  The drug maker was flooded with questions from the news media.IONIS-Pharmaceuticals

Last month, the pharma firm renamed itself Ionis Pharmaceuticals.  “We want people to think about the incredible drugs we’re developing, and not a terrorist group,” said a company spokesperson.

Ionis is not the only company dealing with the tarnish. Bookstores and condo buildings with the Isis name have adopted new monikers.  A mobile payment technology firm changed its name from ISIS Mobile Wallet to Softcard.  See:

Through no fault of your own, your good name can be compromised.

  • The Tea Party Bookshop in Salem, Oregon, was a successful, general-purpose independent bookstore. But as the Tea Party political movement gained attention, folks began calling and stopping by to ask what time the next anti-big-government rally would start. The store’s owner reported disappointment, some interesting discussions, and mostly – confusion.  And confusion, whether your name identifies a bookstore or a bank or a boat-builder, is the enemy of good communication. The owner remembered a Buddhist monk saying that in order to move forward, you have to be a tiger.  The Tea Party Bookshop is now Tigress Books.  (With a new slogan: “Wildly Independent.”)
  • The American Institute of Decision Sciences, a professional group widely known by its acronym AIDS, changed its name to the Decision Sciences Institute.
  • A California firm had been known as AIDS Ambulance Service (for Attitude, Integrity, Dependability and Service). Its drivers were harassed by people who assumed the vehicles were for AIDS victims only. One injured man refused to get into their ambulance. They changed their name.

The bottom line:  Rebranding is never an easy decision.  But when you have to distance yourself from gruesome events or major confusion, there’s really no choice.

Posted in Naming Strategies