Brandnameitis: The Lack of Brand Coherence in Naming


By Tom Dougherty

In Ethical Drugs it seems that Confusion is in Charge

Pharmaceutical brand naming strategy is wasting money
Brand naming seems to excite pharmaceuticals

It would be easy if all drugs fit into categories named after the seven dwarves (Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Happy…etc.). Unfortunately, the brand naming strategy of new drugs is well short of a fairytale process. Drugs, regardless of prescription or over-the-counter status, lack a coherent brand-naming standard. The seemingly random production of brand name drugs not only prevents consumer (and physician) efficacy but also obstructs many helpful drugs from the view of the target market. For example, have you ever heard of Callisto, Ridomil, Actara, or Quadris? Perhaps you have taken one of those for a headache or for chronic back pain.

We hope not because those are actually brand names of crop protection chemicals. What is the difference between a name like Callisto or Actara as opposed to Cialis or Allegra? They are created by marketing firm ABC for product XYZ. There is no differentiation. There is no brand. In the pharmaceutical industry, there are just names. In fact, all drugs are guaranteed three names: chemical, generic, and brand.

The chemical name is the technical name that is rarely used in practice and only understood by lab rats and physicians. Generic names, which usually involve a chemical stem for identification, must go through several approval steps in order to be established. Generic names are ideally short, easily pronounced names because these are the names with which healthcare providers and medical students must be familiar and comfortable. Perhaps generic drug naming has more to offer than we think. (Read our market study on pharmaceutical brands here)

Names Are Marketing Elements

What follows the generic name is the actual brand name. The brand name is where the marketing element of pharmaceutical naming comes into play. Pharmaceutical experts explain, “Creating a generic name is a science; creating a brand name is more of an art.” Pharmaceutical brand naming strategy causes great expense. Naming a drug seems to be equivalent to naming a car or a type of running shoe. The brand name is purely a marketing decision and may very well have nothing at all to do with chemistry. However, drug brand names must pass many rigorous tests before being finalized. Drug brand names require USAN Council and FDA approval in addition to the typical legal checks for trademark infringements. In addition to the several stages of approval, drug names cannot make “over promises” to the consumer. For example, Regain was the original name for Rogaine, but was overturned because the result of regaining hair was considered an over promise to the balding consumer.

brand naming strategy's goal is to steal share
Brand name’s should be logical

What also differentiates the resultant marketing of a drug is the fact that the FDA and USAN continue to monitor the marketing materials of the drug in order to maintain the integrity of the medical information. This exclusive naming process within the pharmaceutical industry makes the concept of brand even more distanced and untouchable for drugs, which places an immediate strain on the consumer market. In order to neutralize the relationship between consumers and drugs, pharmaceutical companies’ advertising campaigns have attempted to familiarize consumers with drugs with the same messaging Budweiser and Target utilize. Names like Viagra, Rogaine, Valtrex, and Claritin mean something to the consumer because of the commercials they recognize from TV and the famous spokesmen who promote the drugs. The drug names do not factor in at all. It helps for the names to sound like something else or to be short and easy to pronounce. Otherwise, drug names may as well be as random as the items in your refrigerator.

Naming’s Place

Where does naming fit into brand? Naming involves a lot of thought, creativity, and artistry; however, strategy should always be in the foreground when naming a new brand or renaming an old brand. Naming is not identity, brand is. Who the customer believes he is when he uses a brand is the most important instrument upon which brand naming must play. Naming and brand must work together in order to maximize efficacy. A name can only do so much to influence the customer; however, in order for a brand to influence at the point of purchase, the name must also be in sync with the brand identity.

An association and self-recognition must occur within the mind of the customer. Many companies confuse names with brands because they are not aware of what brand really means or what kind of process branding truly involves in order to succeed. Similar to any consumer product or service, the pharmaceutical industry needs to do its homework on the target audience in order to properly name and brand drugs. This involves careful research and observations of consumer trends within the market. Most of these drug names are merely made up names that are created before the drug is even produced, untested and given little thought by marketers (other than FDA approval and trademark infringement). There has to be something more to these names, and whether that indicates the lack of influence of parent drug companies such as Merck, Pfizer…etc., or a lack of effort on the part of marketing firms, something must be done to differentiate arthritis medication from plant fertilizer.

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