What Are IDEAs Made Of: Brand names

Mike Rea

IDEA Pharma

This is not an industry that does what is easy instead of what is best.

This is not an industry that would ever decide to register a big bunch of meaningless names and then dole them out to whichever brand looked likely to hit market, like orange prison overalls to new inmates…

Oh, wait… That is exactly what happens. Names that could happily sit on a washing powder, Ford car or new Dell computer adorn pharmaceutical products because it is easier. That may sound harsh, but the alternative, that the companies have been misled, must surely not be right? Those companies (and it isn’t all of them, by any means) have succumbed to the lowest common denominator thinking, the management consulting handle crank that says ‘just follow the process, and whatever comes out the other end will be fine.’ Not ‘great’ but ‘OK.’ ‘”OK” will do. “Great” might go wrong, whereas this handle here, it always produces something “OK”.’


“Names that could happily sit on a washing powder, Ford car or new Dell computer adorn pharmaceutical products because it is easier”

Companies like to talk about ‘banks’ of brand names as if they have something valuable. Names that have undergone legal checks once to show that they can’t be confused for any other when they’re pronounced, or handwritten, that don’t make claims, and that aren’t owned by some litigious IT company. (They’ll have to undergo another round of tests once they’re used in anger, of course, so no saving there…) Then, when they’re pulled off the shelf and dusted down, the same salesmen that sold them to the ‘bank’ will then get paid again to research their fit to the product in question…

Here’s the thing: no name is a genuinely blank canvas. Even the companies that peddle blank canvas processes go on to test their ‘fit to concept.’ At that point, the concept may be nothing better than ‘liberation’ but the names will be tested against it. New names may even be developed against ‘liberation’ – made of syllables that derive from Assyrian deities and Norse weaponry at significant cost (and resold to consumer companies if pharma doesn’t pick them)… They will then be shown on a 7- point scale, from ‘poor fit to concept’ all the way through to ‘excellent fit to concept’. Wait… ‘Poor fit to concept’? Considering that the ‘zero’ line means ‘no fit to concept’, ‘poor fit to concept’ doesn’t just mean ‘poor fit’… It means it is actively describing something entirely different…

In all the testing we’ve seen, it is a rare name that gets beyond a 1, which is the equivalent of a shoulder shrug… Unless, of course, some directed names are included. Names like Trizivir, Lipitor or Epogen don’t have to work too hard to communicate their concept, and they’re a lot less likely to end up on the back of a car.

Let’s move on.

Consider that ‘liberation’ concept. (Ad agencies love ‘liberation’.) Let’s just think for a moment. Might there be another industry that would want to have that association for its products? Cars? Well, yes… Financial planning? Erm, yes… Underarm deodorant… Wait… Almost every industry would want a name that suggests ‘liberation’. So, when your legal department go trawling for words that mean ‘liberation’, they are up against more than a few others, and it’s likely they weren’t there first… (See WAIMO: Emotions…)

There is an assumption: give me a blank canvas and I can invest it with any associations. True. Not cheaply, of course. In fact, the blanker the canvas, the more I am going to have to spend to invest it with those associations. Give me Elidel or Brilinta and all the money I spend in the first couple of years will go on getting someone to remember the name, well before I get to mentioning they’re eczema or anti-platelet treatments. Time to market? Clearly doesn’t matter when we’re happy to take another couple of years before anyone knows they’re there and what they do…


“Time to market? Clearly doesn’t matter when we’re happy to take another couple of years before anyone knows they’re there and what they do…”

In 2007, of the top 20 brands in the US, only 4 had ‘blank canvas’ names. One company (the fastest growing of all), had precisely no blank canvas names. (That same company has a great ad in Basel airport that says something to the effect “Several billion Swiss Francs, thousands of people, hundreds of molecules, lots of trials, one medicine.’ Maybe that tends to focus the mind on making sure that ‘one medicine’ isn’t hampered by a washing powder name at launch…) Two companies have almost nothing but blank canvas names for launches in the past 10 years. Guess how well those launches have gone…

The logical conclusion is this: (to some companies) the brand name really doesn’t matter. The product will sell whatever name we give it. If there was any belief that it does matter, why saddle it with a ‘Boy Named Sue’ story from the off – a need to prove itself despite its name?

The opinions expressed in this article are not the opinions or the responsibility of the editors, sponsors or owners of pharmaphorum.

About the author:

Mike Rea is a Principal with IDEA Pharma, who enjoys taking a look outside the industry to learn how it can think differently. For direct enquiries he can be contacted on mike.rea@ideapharma.com and for more information on IDEA Pharma please see http://www.ideapharma.com/what/default.htm.

The next WAIMO piece will be in a couple of weeks.

How much impact do brand names have on drug sales?