Better Than Costello: AbbVie Company Name Review


As I write this, I’m mindful of my colleague Mark Skoultchi’s recent review of Kraft Mondelez, in which he so rightly pointed out that folks are way too quick to jump all over almost any big name launch. This phenomenon occurs not only in the media and by the water cooler, but in focus groups, where unfamiliarity dooms the majority of interesting name candidates to the “it doesn’t work for me” bucket.

Like Kraft, Abbott Laboratories will be separating into two different publicly traded companies, by the end of the year. While Abbott Laboratories will continue to be the name for the diversified medical products company (think stent devices and baby formula, along with generic drugs), AbbVie (pronounced Abb-vee) will be the name of the research-based, branded pharma company, and its line-up will include top-selling arthritis drug, Humira.

Dispensing with the naming basics, the name AbbVie is a pretty intuitive combination of “Abbott” (Abb-) and “vie,” the French word for “life,” or “vit-/viv-“ the Latin roots of life-related words like “vital” and “vivacious.” According to the official press release: “The beginning of the name connects the new company to Abbott and its heritage of pioneering science. The ‘vie’ calls attention to the vital work the company will continue to advance to improve the lives of people around the world.”

I get that pretty quickly, and the name’s inherent messaging is about as basic, inoffensive and non-limiting as could be. While I wish the name packed significantly more punch—AbbVie is just so bland—it has to be said that the legal, linguistic, and domain-name hurdles are mind-boggling for a global, multi-billion dollar company like Abbott. So one has to acknowledge that AbbVie does manage to draw on existing Abbott equity and largely sidestep an excruciating global trademark-clearance process.

But couldn’t the new name have made the connection back to Abbott with a little (or a lot) more fluidly and finesse? Blandness aside, AbbVie is just a clumsy concoction—a pill that gets lodged in your throat. Even Abbovie would have been a slight improvement in flow, or better yet, simply Abbott Life or Abbott Pharma.

While we’re on the topic of Abbott descriptors, is it just me, or is it non-intuitive that the medical products business retains the original name? “Laboratories” would seem to more accurately convey research-based pharma than medical products and generics—but of course there’s revenues and internal politics to consider. It’s a good bet that the spin-off company will be the generator of lesser revenues.

So there you have it. AbbVie is bland though innocuous, inelegant, and slightly non-intuitive in relation to its sister company’s moniker. A missed opportunity.

Overall Grade:  C-

Final Grade:



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