Pharmaceutical brand naming and brand development are two of the most evolving areas of the pharma industry. Trends come and go, regulatory guidance shifts and changes, and brands are created that bear the fruit of years of research and development.

This continuous shifting of strategies, tactics, and regulations has a profound impact on how names are developed across therapeutic areas. This is a rare area within branding where the end result must straddle the line between marketing effectiveness and regulatory approval. Pharmaceutical brand names are judged by audiences with very different criteria for success, both living on very different ends of the spectrum. However, for all of their differences, these two audiences can agree on some shifts in naming trends, both ones that are becoming rarer and those that are showing up more and more in recent name approvals.

Here are four of these trends that are seeing a downturn in regularity, and one that is decidedly on the upswing:

1. Single-Syllable Names

These names are handcuffed by simple language construction. In order to achieve a single-syllable creation, only so many letters can be used. The very nature of linguistics restricts these names to around four or five letters at the most, and as such the ability to create a name that clears all differentiation requirements is similarly restricted.

The list of available letter strings that are both one-syllable and legally/trademark approvable has been drastically reduced since the days when single-syllable names were at their peak. Look-alike and sound-alike rules have been the driving factors behind the drop in these types of names.

2. Indication-Specific Names

Companies are becoming more cognizant of making efforts to stay away from names that create an unquestionable connection to a specific indication or usage. These highly descriptive names, where a direct line is drawn from the product to the main purpose, can box in a drug too soon, before all of its usage can be examined. More often than not, off-label or additional regulatory-approved uses are being discovered after a product hits the marketplace.

For instance, a product that was developed for a respiratory illness may have “pulm” within the name, clearly marking it as a pulmonary drug. But what happens when, a few months after its launch, it is discovered to also be a viable product for skin cancer? This is an instance when the marketing effectiveness takes over the top priority, as it would be difficult to convince healthcare professionals and patients that a product with a respiratory-specific brand identity could also be used for their skin cancer medication.

3. Common-Usage Words Within Names

One of the hallmarks of a strong brand name is its ability to instantly and easily connect customers back to the product. This is especially true with pharmaceutical brands, a characteristic that runs counter to those names utilizing common-usage words. These are words that are found abundantly in everyday languages, but have been incorporated into brand names. However, many times these words are geared more toward generally descriptive purposes, as opposed to linking back to the product. For example, if a hypothetical brand name for a new oncology product was “Agreata” where “great” is the main portion of the name, it would be a stretch for customers to easily connect that product with oncology. It could conceivably be a product for any therapeutic area, which is a problem for brands.

Trademark clearance is also a hurdle to common-usage word names, as non-pharmaceutical and consumer-focused brands must be taken into consideration for approval. Brands outside of the pharma industry are more likely to have common-usage names compared to some more pharma-focused ones, which makes establishing a protected name more difficult.

4. Names that Suggest Superiority

These names are straightforward in their claims to what they can do for patients. However, in the eyes of the regulatory agencies, there is such a thing as too straightforward. Want to say right in the name that your product will “cure” the disease? How about including the word “relief” within the brand? These are two hypothetical examples of when a name has a very good chance of receiving a regulatory rejection. The first issue is that these claims rarely have the ability to point to scientific studies to prove their claims. As the product moves through the regulatory process, data and research are the driving forces behind verifying all claims, and this includes those made within the name.

This decrease will become more common as regulatory agencies are becoming more cautious when approving names deemed as too fanciful or claim superiority compared to recent years. This eliminates a number of common-usage words that speak directly to these two facets of a product.

The shifts and evolution of name brand development regulation and trends do not simply push characteristics such as these to the side and away from the limelight. It also causes a rise in certain strategic ideas, with one in particular becoming more prevalent and taking center stage in the space.

Names Consisting of Uncommon and Unique Letter Strings

Hundreds of names and trademarks are filed each year across the globe, and only 26 letters are available for brand name creation. This rapidly decreasing white space for letter combinations is causing name developers, who are looking to meet all of the necessary regulatory and marketing benchmarks for a successful name, to turn to previously little-used letters and letter strings.

A look at recent drug name approvals shows a rise in names that include letters like y, w, q and j, which have traditionally seen sporadic usage. These names are more unique in their spelling, their pronunciation, and their connection back to the product. And in an industry where white space is shrinking, this uniqueness is often the key to regulatory and trademark approval.

The aforementioned evolution is exactly that—an evolution. It is by no means a final shift away from some of these characteristics, or to say that names incorporating them will never be approved. But ease of use and efficiency in development have always been driving forces behind strategic naming, and because they are becoming more difficult to achieve, we are seeing the inevitable downturn, and upturn of the uniqueness of brand name development.

  • Brannon Cashion

    Brannon Cashion is President of Addison Whitney, a part of inVentiv Health. With more than two decades of marketing experience, Brannon Cashion has led Addison Whitney’s offerings in brand strategy and development, brand name and logo creation, corporate identity consulting and market research, and oversees Addison Whitney’s offices in Charlotte, NC, Munich, Germany, New York, NY, Seattle, WA, London and Tokyo, Japan.


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