Evolution of pharmaceutical naming
In the mid-80’s, the golden era of pharmaceutical naming was exciting! There was much room for creative freedom, so namers had the opportunity to craft – and marketers the chance to build – brands like Effexor®, Prozac® and Zocor® – icons with such significance and resonance that they became part of the reference branding vocabulary. Naming agencies could empower brand builders by reflecting their marketing and communication strategies both in branding concepts, and in the names themselves.
In the mid-90’s, naming specialists could still drive project success in the same way, but oftentimes, branding concepts got eclipsed – as the initial names were adapted in response to the increasing legal and regulatory pressures.
In 2010, the pharmaceutical naming industry is struggling with similar issues but with unprecedented magnitude. While it is still quite straightforward to develop branding concepts that embody marketing and communication messages, healthcare marketers can rarely identify these concepts in the emerging brands. Yes, some names with a sense of meaning do make it through now and then, but – let’s face it – probably pure luck – or the unusual discovery of an untapped naming opportunity.
Predictable dynamics in naming techniques
So how did this situation come to be?
As in any industry, the universe of healthcare brands has matured over 25 years time and the naming paradigm has gone through some significant turbulence, bringing several technical limitations to the creative process.
The first limitation begins with an overused pool of self-exhausting naming inspirations. Think of the range of drug features and benefits that can effectively make the difference for any new drug – and the logically finite number of distinct naming ideas appropriate to leverage them. Not that many! …Among a few… Selective activity, ease of use, quality of life …
Then, once a namer has identified an idea, the next limitation arises with the set of alphabet letters in all their conceivable sequences and permutations – but with only a finite number of letter combinations potentially viable.
There is yet another limitation in the endoscopic competition with other drug names and, increasingly, with names for OTC drugs and nutritional supplements.
Unpredictable impediments in the naming environment
In the face of such a stifling atmosphere, what was a name creator to do? Run for the daylight!
Name creators intuitively found their golden escape hatch: exotic languages.
Moving away from English and Latin-based names…this was like running toward virgin territory on a highway to freedom – opening hundreds of untapped “linguistic doors” that enabled an unlimited variety of unusual looking and sounding names.
But unfortunately, out of a hundred foreign sounding names, brand managers would adopt only one.
As a result, namers quickly learned that no matter how exotic or unusual the source of inspiration, the “game of the name” is about how names look sound and feel. This has to match the consistent “brand voice” across key markets, as well as the marketers’ linguistic sensitivities. In the end, name creators were back to square 1: English and Latin.
In the same stifling atmosphere, it was easy for marketers to become risk averse.
Following the advice of the immortal Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi, pharmaceutical companies and trademark attorneys alike also “ran for the daylight” to find their own golden escape hatch: multiple tactical name filings for a single drug. But to what price?
For every one “drug door” that opened, a thousand “trademark doors” were closed to the rest of the industry – and rather sooner than later, even to the very same marketers themselves – biting off their own legs as they went.
On the regulatory side, the continued proliferation of brands within the confined healthcare name space unavoidably triggered medical errors. Our society has become more globalized and risk-conscious about patient safety. So in response, regulatory agencies like the FDA and the EMEA, actively addressing these health concerns, have necessarily become much more rigorous in probing for any conceivable name conflict – and, ultimately, tougher in rejecting more names..
From golden era to endangered specialty – what’s next?
In the face of this apparently endless, spiraling “catch 22” cascade, coming from all directions – marketing, naming, linguistics, legal and regulatory…
Are we looking at a scenario of gloom and doom?
Can we rebound from a predictable decadence in naming – and orchestrate its renaissance?