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19th February 2020
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What’s in a name?

Posted 20/02/2014 by sevans

Confusion over the Merck name has been a constant since the end of World War I, when the German pharmaceutical company was split up as part of the war reparations.  The US portion of the company became Merck & Co, but this name could only be used within the US – in the rest of the world it became Merck Sharp & Dohme, or MSD. The German headquartered Merck has tried to distinguish itself as Merck KGaA, but in today’s global market it became inevitable that confusion and conflict would arise.

In the pages of C&I, we have striven to make the difference obvious, but far too often observers have lapsed into using Merck for both companies, further fuelling the confusion.

And while this situation has rumbled on at a relatively low key, the situation has hotted up recently in our increasingly brand-conscious world.

The problem has come to a head with a number of recent incidents, including protestors demonstrating outside Merck KGaA’s London, UK, office about a position adopted by US-based Merck & Co over lobbying against new generic drug rules in South Africa! We truly live in a global marketplace, but the demonstrators ‘rubbed salt in the wound’ by using Merck KGaA’s logo rather than the US version! The demonstration organiser has since apologised to Merck KGaA, but the company sees this as just another example of how the ‘real Merck’ – as its ceo Karl-Ludwig Kley describes his organisation - suffers by being confused with its US namesake. He also objects to having to use the KGaA suffix: ‘We are Merck in practically all countries around the world’.

The problem even spread to the domain name ‘Merck’ on the internet, with both companies appearing on the same Facebook page for a short period. This situation was finally resolved with Merck KGaA having its name on the page, while Merck & Co has moved to MerckBeWell.

Since the Merck KGaA name can be used all over the world, unlike the US company, which has to use MSD, the German company believes that it has the full right to the Merck name and the family name has been used for 350 years, especially as it also does not claim a major market share in the US.

As Timothy Calkins, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management told the news service Bloomberg: ‘There’s no question that having two major pharmaceutical companies with the name of Merck causes a lot of confusion. It is something I think they should address. As we get more global, and as these companies bump into each other more often, it’s going to become more and more of a challenge.’

But Merck KGaA is not in the mood to discuss possible name changes. In fact, its boss has also been quoted as saying that he will be much more aggressive about protecting the ‘real Merck’, even if that means taking legal action. The battle lines are being drawn but who knows who will blink first?

Watch this space for the next instalment in this name game!

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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