Our Thoughts


To those outside the healthcare marketing world, or the niche pharmaceutical naming industry, the rationale behind many Rx drug brand names can appear either quite mystifying or, indeed, wholly absent. However, there are irresistible forces, and regulations, at work that have forged the current ‘namescape’ when it comes to prescription drug names in particular. Successful brand names in this most specialised of business areas need to, at a minimum, satisfy three needs equally: trademarkability, regulatory approvability and cultural/linguistic acceptability.


Navigate trademark congestion

It is well known that the primary driver for most brand development projects, regardless of industry, is differentiation and nowhere is that determinant of marketing and sales success more important than within the pharmaceutical sector. Even before approaching national and regional regulatory bodies for approval of a new product, drug manufacturers need to ensure that their proposed brand name candidate is available as a protectable trademark throughout the territories in which they wish to trade. No easy task when there are more than two million names already in existence registered throughout the world in Trademark Class 5 (pharmaceuticals), the most crowded of all trademark classifications. Preferred concepts and/or word-parts may well already be owned by competitors.


Be different, be safe

Category stand-out is therefore imperative if the true value of intellectual property inherent in any new product development is to be realised. However, particular to the pharmaceutical industry, healthcare regulators also insist that certain name-related standards are met before approval is granted. Non-compliance can be both damaging financially, due to launch delays, as well as hurtful to corporate reputations (and share values).

Name acceptability, or ‘name safety’, is a key component for approvability by bodies such as EMA (Europe), FDA (US) and Health Canada. Safety is king – no matter how marketable, ownable, appealing or different-looking/sounding a proposed name may be, if it has the potential to cause patient harm it will be rejected. Primary amongst such rules is an overwhelming need for distinctiveness so that the drug in question will not be confused with others when spoken, read or scripted. Look-alikes and sound-alikes (LAs/SAs) are to be avoided. Misinterpreted prescriptions and mis-administrations due to brand name confusion can endanger or indeed kill patients – whose safety the regulators are in place to protect. Such protection also extends to the requirement that brand names must not ‘overpromise’ or suggest unproven therapeutic effects.


Strategise by name type

So, overall, it is clear that differentiation must be achieved, at all costs. How a pharmaceutical name reaches such a destination is often a matter of style, or name type. Brand name development for prescription pharmaceuticals can go down any of many different routes dependent upon a multitude of strategic and product-specific factors.


Go neutral

The least risky of name types, and most accepted (and welcomed) by regulators, are arbitrary (“neutral”) inventions, often described as ‘blank canvas’. Such newly-coined names may have no apparent relationship to the drug itself, its benefits or indeed anything remotely obvious. They can nonetheless communicate brand attributes through look, sound or feel and are sometimes referred to as ‘empty vessel’ names – good if there is ample marketing spend with which to imbue the brand with character and personality, at launch and over time, through promotional and advertising activities. Successfully executed exponents of empty vessel Rx brand names most famously include Viagra, Prozac as well as Xanax but more recent FDA new drug application approval examples include Safyral, Veltin and Makena. Though occasionally alien-looking or initially strange-sounding, arbitrary names which are usually unique have the added advantage of being generally available from a trademark perspective.


Implied benefits

Suggestive or associative name candidates also, by their very nature, can better avoid overclaim and are thereby more viable than names containing descriptive elements. Suggestive names may embed or refer to product-specific associations that relate to chemistry, therapeutic area or mode of action and therefore can infer attributes such as scientific authenticity and credibility or functionality and efficacy. They can also convey concepts or ideas that are familiar to target audiences thereby usefully establishing an emotional or rational connection with patients and healthcare professionals alike.

Sleep aid medications such as Lunesta (lunar, siesta) and Ambien (a.m. [morning], bien [French = well], ambience) efficiently convey benefits without stating them explicitly. The erectile dysfunction drugs Levitra (levitation, vitality) and Cialis (ciel [French = sky]) also communicate desirable lifestyle connotations within a previously stigmatic area. More recent FDA approval examples include Fortesta (strength, manliness), Victoza (winning) and Krystexxa (clarity, purity) which all imply positive product characteristics.

Suggestive names lend products more immediate marketability than arbitrary names since they employ memorable and accessible word-parts or ideas but sponsors of such names should be vigilant that they don’t overstep into perceived overclaim territory.


Watch your language

Although broadly-speaking the attrition rate from native language-speaker testing of brand names candidates is low (15-20%) such due diligence is crucial if potential negative or inappropriate connotations in multiple markets are to be eliminated. Cultural sensitivity in the globalised world is of paramount importance to multinational companies and nowhere may linguistic insularity be better exposed than in an under-analysed brand name. Examples of linguistic tradename bloopers are many and varied – ask any German speaker how they like the word-part –mist– or –tot– in a drug name or how –xo– or –shi– may appeal to those that speak Japanese.


Symphony of skills

It’s often been said that brand naming combines both art and science. And so it is for pharmaceutical companies in developing the best name for their new prescription product – different components of the same organisation (legal, marketing, regulatory) are required to work together to reach a successful outcome. 100% consensus is difficult to achieve when differing departmental agendas are in play and the answer to the question “What makes a great brand name?” will always be both subjective and personal. Parity importance must be placed both on the creative skills as well as the legal and regulatory research disciplines that are the key ingredients of Rx name development.


To contact Purple Fire Branding, specialists in brand naming, strategy, research and design, please telephone: +44 (0)20 8166 1853 or email: info@purplefirebranding.com