“Your name should evoke what’s unique about your product,” said Scott Piergrossi, an executive at Brand Institute. “Make it memorable and easy to pronounce so that it clearly stands out in the marketplace.”
I love watching reruns on TV. The characters in old episodes of “Friends,” “MASH,” “The Big Bang Theory,” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” are like old acquaintances to me.
These days, my old TV friends are brought to me, in large part, by pharmaceutical companies. The industry spends $7 billion a year on television commercials, according to MediaRadar, a company that tracks ad buying.
Seven billion buys a lot of commercials on nighttime cable TV, and that’s not without controversy. Only the United States and New Zealand allow drug makers to hawk their products on TV. Regulators in the rest of the world – and many doctors throughout the US look down on the idea of distilling complex medical conditions into 30-second portrayals of happy people cured of complicated diseases.
That makes sense.
But still, I’m grateful to be able to watch my beloved reruns. Besides, I find it amusing to watch a group of friends play beach volleyball while an announcer pleasantly reads through a list of potential side effects: dry mouth, weight gain, nausea, diarrhea, suicidal thoughts, and in rare cases even death. My goodness.
I also find the drug names hilarious. Farxiga, Hetlioz, Otezla and Zykadia sound more like distant worlds visited by Captain Piccard than treatments for diabetes, insomnia, arthritis and cancer.
Sometimes I think the people who name drugs must be champion Scrabble players. The anxiety medication Xanax is worth 19 Scrabble points. Zithromax, which treats respiratory infections, is worth 30 points.
Creating drug names, however, is no laughing matter. In fact, it’s one of the toughest branding challenges in the world of commerce. While you and I have wide latitude to name our companies’ products and services, drug names require approval from the Federal Drug Administration, which has strict consumer protection criteria.
First is safety. The FDA will not approve a name that sounds too much like – or even looks too much like – another, fearing that doctors and pharmacists would mistakenly prescribe or dispense the wrong medication.
They also insist that the name convey something about the product’s ingredients and benefits – without going too far. Kcentra,
in the FDA’s view, is a perfect name. “K” is the scientific symbol for potassium, and “centra” derives from concentration, as in lots of potassium.
The hair loss drug Rogaine is a different story. Outside the US, the drug is known as Regaine. But not all patients successfully regain hair, so the FDA didn’t allow the name Regaine. Result: in the US we have Rogaine.
Navigating the FDA’s criteria is tough. So, most drug makers pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to branding experts that specialize in naming pharmaceuticals.
One of the biggest of those companies is called Brand Institute, a private company based in downtown Miami that’s responsible for some blockbuster names: Lipitor, Cymbalta, Avastin and Neulasta, as well as non-drug brand names like Aquafina, NutriGrain and Propel Fitness water.
Brand Institute worked on 80% of FDA-approved drug names in 2018, according to Scott Piergrossi, the company’s VP of Creative & Corporate Communications who’s worked on thousands of projects since graduating from Barry University and joining Brand Institute 16 years ago.
I asked him, “What if you don’t have hundreds of thousands to hire a global branding company?”
“Your name should evoke what’s unique about your product,” advised Piergrossi. “Make it memorable and easy to pronounce so that it clearly stands out in the marketplace.”
The name must also be trademarkable, according to Piergrossi. That means it doesn’t step on anyone else’s brand toes and it also means you can create your own unique space in the minds of your customers.
Adam Snitzer is a revenue strategy expert and president of Peak Revenue Performance, a consulting firm that specializes in helping companies attract more, high-paying customers. He can be reached at