Giant for-profit health insurer Anthem is changing its tune. The behemoth has plans to move beyond health insurance and benefits management into what it describes as “a more holistic approach to health,” encompassing “the physical, behavioral and social drivers that impact whole health.” The company believes its new name, Elevance Health, conveys its “commitment to elevating whole health and advancing health beyond healthcare.” The change does not affect Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield health plans, which will retain the Anthem handle.
Some name history
The company’s naming past has been eventful, to say the least. Depending on which parts of the organization you count, Elevance Health is the tenth name for the company since its founding 75 years ago (you may remember the rebrand to WellPoint in 2004 and then back to Anthem in 2014).
Blue Cross and Blue Shield are the best-known names in this history. The BC and BS connection is a key part of the company’s name history, since those brands have played an outsized role in American healthcare since their inception. In fact, for Americans over a certain age, Blue Cross and Blue Shield are synonymous with health insurance.
A 2010 story on NPR noted Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s early mission as charitable organizations: “It may be hard to imagine now, but back in the 1930s, membership in a Blue Cross plan was practically a civic duty. Boy Scouts handed out enrollment brochures and preachers urged their congregation to enroll.”
According to NPR, “Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans formed as not-for-profits to give communities access to medical care and protect against personal financial ruin. All members paid the same amount no matter how old or sick, and no one was turned away. The Blues became one of the most trusted brands in America.”
BC and BS merged in 1982 to become the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, which licenses its trademarks and names to affiliates in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. What is now Elevance Health acquired at least 12 Blue Cross Blue Shield regional affiliates over the years and either retained the names for those operations or blended them with Anthem.
Correlation with the beloved Blues undoubtedly bolstered the Anthem brand, but eventually, the company’s and the BCBS Association’s corporate strategies diluted the Blues brand (some might say killed it). The BCBSA voted to allow licensees to be for-profit in 1994, and Anthem and other regional affiliates carrying the Blue Cross Blue Shield name provide widely varying services and products.
The resulting brand confusion has left customers uncertain about who they are dealing with. This muddle isn’t helped by the fact that in some areas, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield are completely separate companies. In California, Blue Shield retained its nonprofit status, while Anthem Blue Cross did not (collecting some harsh critics in the process—we’ve heard Anthem Blue Cross of California referred to as Blue Screw).
Why does all this history matter? Because brand confusion is one of the big problems a rebrand should solve. Does Elevance move that needle? Let’s dig in and see.
Anthem says the new name “is the combination of elevate + advance,” terms that indicate the company’s commitment to “moving health forward—elevating the importance of whole health and advancing health beyond healthcare for consumers, laddering up to our purpose of improving the health of humanity.”
Elevate and advance are aspirational messages with a lot of positive movement that track perfectly to the stated company purpose. In addition, they are broad enough that the name can easily grow with the company as it moves into new areas.
Elevance is a natural-sounding coinage with meanings that carry over to Latinate languages, and it’s easy to say and spell, making it a good fit for an international audience.
The recall of eleven adds a note of high performance and going beyond competitors. (This Is Spinal Tap explains the concept nicely.)
Note that if Elevance Health functions solely as a parent brand (à la Alphabet and Meta) for various units (Blue Cross, IngenioRx, etc.), then consumers won’t really be interacting with it. Standout brand names for parent companies are just not as important as for a company name your customers will encounter at every touchpoint. They tend to be somewhat vague, fairly aspirational, and completely comfortable/not challenging. Elevance fits that profile perfectly.
The combination of elevate and advance might be the intention behind the name, but our first impression of elevance is elevate + elegance, with a recall of advance. The word’s cadence matches the first two much more strongly because they are also three syllables. Advance, at two syllables has a different stress pattern.
The idea of elegance for this brand initially appears to be a big misdirect. Because elegance is typically associated with sophistication, luxury, and style, it’s off-brand for an organization that wants to “improve the health of humanity” and make “health more equitable.” Given the company’s focus on democratic solutions, the new name could even come across as ironic.
The company could manage this misdirect by leaning into the elegance of simple solutions and designs. Rapid advancements in diagnostics and noninvasive treatments and easy-to-understand results and outcomes fit well with the engineering sense of elegance. With this theme, the company can use the name to communicate that it provides elegant solutions for your health needs. However, based on the release and the site, it appears the company is completely ignoring the elegance connection to its new name. We think this is a mistake.
Another possible issue is that Elevance.com is owned by Elevance Renewable Sciences, a biorefining company. It manufactures specialty chemicals from natural oils. It’s not directly related to health, but is in a tangential space, particularly to pharmaceuticals. If Elevance moves further into pharma (it currently has a pharmacy benefits management subsidiary called IngenioRx), it might cause some confusion as to whether the companies are related. (Elevance secured elevancehealth.com.)
We’ve actually thought about recommending Elevance as a brand name on at least three occasions because of all its great qualities. Every time, though, we decided against it because, once you make the association, you’ll never get that herd of elephants out of your head. Delightful though they may be, elephants most definitely do not convey sleek elegance, rapid advances, or lofty elevation (Dumbo aside).
Will it succeed?
No matter what the changes to Anthem’s name and mission may bring, making sure target audiences are aware of who the company is—as well as clarifying the message of who it is going to be—will be no small task. That’s a big lift for Elevance. Of course the name won’t be doing it alone. We’ll have to see whether the rest of the brand work, and the company’s actions, support it.
The bigger issue is that since Elevance has decided to retain its Blue health plan names, the company rebrand may ultimately be a non-event. The confusion about who the company really is will remain.