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Want A Bad Name? It’s Easy.

Pharma Has Set the Bar Pretty Low

Are you are looking for inspiration on how to create a bad name for a branded product? Look no further than the Pharmaceutical industry. To be clear we are talking about the brand name that is used for marketing to the public. That’s different from the drug’s generic name. Ibuprofin is the generic name while Advil is one of the brand names for that drug. Generic naming follows a strict formula. They have to be approved by the United States Adopted Names (USAN) Council and the World Health Organization (WHO) INN Programme. In fact, generic names should not be used for marketing. There are even some letters in the Roman alphabet that can’t be used. It’s complicated. And safety, of course, is the first priority.

The Challenges of Pharma Brand Naming

Creating a brand name for a medicine is admittedly not as simple as naming a new cake mix. There are rules. The FDA has to approve them before going to market. The name should not make an overt claim about what the product does. And the brand name should not create confusion with its generic counterpart. Nor should it compromise how a prescription is written. So yes, Pharma brand naming has its unique challenges. But the naming process still shares some of the basic principles of naming any other branded product. Brand names regardless of company, product, or service still have to be meaningful to the customer. Even Pharma companies acknowledge that. According to Pfizer on the naming process for consumer-facing brands:

“It’s an important process and it’s designed with the patient in mind.”

If that’s true why is it that so many of the Pharma names seem to contradict the basic principles of good naming practices?

The Fundamentals of Good Naming

Whether it is a product, service, or company there are many considerations that factor into the creation of a brand name. There are two sides to the naming coin. On one side are all of the strategic considerations. This would include brand positioning, value proposition, brand promise, target audience, relevance, and competitive distinction to name a few. Brand character is often one of the most important sources in the development of a relevant name

Functional considerations are the more pragmatic drivers of a name. Effective names should be easy to spell, pronounce, and be ownable. And then there are different creative approaches such as descriptive names, initialisms, invented, and metaphoric. But in the end, a name simply has to be relevant, distinctive, and memorable. They have to be meaningful to the audiences with which they aim to connect with. They will elevate brand recognition. However, names need to be reinforced through the brand experience to become unforgettable and valued. That’s why brands like Apple, Starbucks, and Amazon have become so recognizable and trusted.

A Few Simple Rules to Avoid Bad Naming

It seems that some of the basics of good naming have been put aside in Pharma naming. Even with all of the restrictions the fundamentals can still apply. Let’s take a snapshot of the state of Pharma brand names. We kept it simple and evaluated a few of the more prominent branded Pharma products using only 4 criteria. These are the bare basic rules for any good name.

  • Pronunciation. Can the name be easily pronounced? Isn’t the idea that you can talk to your doctor about a particular drug. But you don’t want to be embarrassed if you can’t even pronounce it. That’s not customer friendly. And it’s ease of pronunciation that adds to how memorable the brand is.
  • Spelling. Can you easily spell the name? Ease of spelling, like pronunciation, adds to memorability and makes it easy to pronounce.
  • Memorability. Can you remember the product and what it is for? This is especially important since you simply can’t go to your local drug store and pickup a prescription medicine. You have to remember it enough to discuss it with your doctor.
  • Relevance. Can you associate the name with what the product is for? In Pharma products a good name should, in some form, suggest what it is treating. Mucinex, by its obvious association with mucus, clearly implies the product is for the treatment of cold or flu. This is essential in an industry that can be confusing due to the number of products in the market. But names can have unintended consequences if it suggests something other than what it is or has a hidden negative connotation.

Of course, the criteria set could be much longer. Distinction, for example, is a key consideration in a good name. Most, if not all, of the Pharma products, would rank high on distinction. But distinction seems to override all of the other more basic rules of good naming. Distinction without purpose lacks true value in the absence of more fundamental considerations of good naming practices. So here is our bottom ten.

The Bottom 10

  1. Dupixent. (Asthma). Dupixent is relatively easy to spell, pronounce, and remember. However, it bears no relevance to what the product is for. The name construct seems to suggest something entirely different. “Du” and “pix” translates to “two pictures”. Maybe there is a connection that is not entirely obvious that sounded good in a focus group. Somehow it sounds like toothpaste. But at least you can talk about it.
  2. Tremfya. (Psoriasis & Arthritis). Tremfya is somewhat easier to pronounce assuming you know how to pronounce “fya“. The spelling is not entirely intuitive for the same reason. But it does have some memorability qualities. The connotation is not entirely positive as “trem” is often taken to suggest trembling unless there is some less obvious relationship to psoriasis or arthritis.
  3. Tezpire. (Asthma). Tezpire is easy to spell and pronounce. It has some memorability attributes becasue it can be pronounced. Connotation is questionable. “Tez “in Spanish is complexion. “espire” is close to “expire” which, in medicine, is something you don’t want to do.
  4. Vraylar (Bipolar). Spelling and pronounciation is not entirely intuitive. Is it V-ray-lar or Vr-ay-lar? Either way it’s forgettable. It sounds like it could be a material similar to mylar
  5. Breztri (COPD) Breztri has a good chance to be successfully pronounced and spelled. One could argue that “Brez” could be associated with breeze that at least has some relevance to what the product helps treat.
  6. Farxiga (Diabetes) If you pronounce Farxiga slowly it might work. But people don’t naturally talk that way. Relevance probably wasn’t a consideration to hold back a name with strong distinction. Traditionally any name with an “x” is considered more memorable.
  7. Qulipta (Migraines) It’s unfortunate that sometimes words, letters, and phrases become hijacked which can negatively shade their legitimate use. Such is the case with Q in its association with QAnon. That’s something hard to predict. Putting that aside however, Qulipta is somewhat pronouncable, harder to spell correctly and less memorable than what it should be.
  8. Xyzal (Allergy) For those who have seen enough of the Xyzal commercials they probably understand how to correctly pronounce it. But that’s a big investment to overcome spelling, pronounciation and relevance failings.
  9. Vyepti (Migraines) It’s not clear whether Vyepti treats Migraines or is its cause. There are obvious spelling and pronounciation challenges. Memorabiity is nonexistent. Forget relevance.
  10. Xeljanz (Arthritis) Xeljanz Is at the bottom of the bottom 10. It is nearly impossible to spell or pronounce correctly. Therefore it’s practically impossible to remember. It’s hard to see that there is any relevance or meaning related to the treatment of arthritis. But it would be a good scrabble word with an X, J and Z. (Fake work: Zyenipaxent)

The Bottom Line

If Pharma brands are intended to connect with and serve customers why do they make it so hard? Names are a key tool to promote a brand and give them meaning and relevance. With medicine, it is to help patients relate to and remember the drugs that may help whatever treatment they are seeking. Evaluating the merits of a name is ultimately tested in the context of its use. How many patients could comfortably talk to their doctor about Xeljanz if they can’t even pronounce it? How well would you remember Vyepti ? And what is it for? All of these names probably took years, focus groups, and untold dollars to create. Isn’t Gas-x more effective? Great brands know how to connect with their customers. Because they understand that brands are built to mean something. That’s how brand works.

The goal of How Brand Works is to share our experience, perspectives and philosophy on the different facets of branding intended to enable an effective brand management strategy.

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