“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.”

“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