Naming Strategies in Pharmaceutical Brand Name Development


By: Scott Piergrossi
August 21, 2020, 11:42 AM

One of the questions I am often asked about pharmaceutical brand naming is, “Where do you start?” The public, and that includes patients and prescribing physicians, only see the result of a months-if-not-years-long process. The final/approved brand name for a pharmaceutical product is often quite unique. Sometimes the “embedded message” in the name is clear, and sometimes it is more subtle or abstract. Whatever that final name is and what it was crafted to communicate, the process to arrive at that name is robust, with typically over a thousand names developed.

When beginning the creative phase of pharmaceutical brand name development, an important discussion takes place about brand naming strategies. Naming strategies are areas of creative exploration that are meant to communicate specific concepts or themes. For example, should the name communicate an attribute or benefit of the drug? How about an image or aspirational association? Should the brand name link to the drug’s nonproprietary name? Would an indication associated name be most opportunistic? What role does the science play in the drug’s differentiation and, accordingly, should the name reference the mechanism of action (MOA)? Or should the name simply evoke a desired sound or tonality and utilize an otherwise empty vessel approach.

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to naming strategies and there are certainly regulatory constraints that must be considered. But some strategies are more appropriate, opportunistic and/or differentiating based on the nature of the drug, the competitive landscape and who, ultimately, the drug will be marketed to (i.e., patients, medical professionals, caregivers, etc.).

Consider for example two brands indicated for Age-Related Macular Degeneration: Genentech’s Lucentis® and Regeneron’s Eylea®. Lucentis® embeds the word lucent, defined as "luminous" or "radiant.” This imagery may evoke a sense of ophthalmic health and wellness (I say “may” because one’s perception of a name’s meaning and how it might infer an end benefit is relatively subjective). The name Eylea® utilizes the Ey- prefix, presumably to connote the word eye, linking the name to the therapy area. Both names are distinctive, memorable, and have a relatively smooth-to-soft cadence (whereas a harder, more powerful sound might not be optimal for an ophthalmic product). Both names appeal to patients and physicians alike, but their underlying strategies create differentiation between the two brands and carve out their own white space within the category.

Some drug categories are dominated by a particular naming strategy. For example, a likely majority of cancer drugs are derived from, or in some way reference, the product’s mechanism of action (MOA). Genentech’s Avastin® evokes its avascular (anti-angiogenic) effects. Astellas’ Xtandi® suggests androgen receptor inhibition. BeiGene’s recently approved Brukinsa® denotes the bruton tyrosine kinase inhibitor class of drugs. The list of MOA-associated cancer drugs is quite extensive. So why are so many oncology drugs based on this strategy? Because the rapid pace of innovation in cancer therapies is largely defined by the development of new classes of drugs, and coining the brand name from that drug class is an effective way of communicating the science to the prescribing physician.

Brand naming strategies are prioritized prior to name creation. This allows the creative team to focus their efforts on messaging and concepts that the project team believes will benefit the brand, its positioning and its differentiation. It is also important to not arbitrarily eliminate naming strategies based on a hunch. An exhaustive and fully explorative naming project should cast a wide net and include multiple naming strategies. Deciding the most relevant and resonant strategy should be reserved for market research, where the target audience will validate the best strategy and, accordingly, the best name.

About the Author
Mr. Piergrossi joined Brand Institute in 2003. He oversees the company’s Miami-based operations and corporate communications. In the 16 years preceding his current role, he directed Brand Institute’s naming team, managing over 3,000 proprietary creative nomenclature projects and developing the creative strategy and methodology used in name development. Mr. Piergrossi received his B.A. in Advertising from Barry University in Miami.

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