What’s in a Name? The Power of Study Branding

by Felicia Fuller

Early in my tenure with DAC Patient Recruitment Services, back when we were D. Anderson & Company, we presented a proposal defense to a pharmaceutical company that was sponsoring a study aimed at a particular ethnic group. The sponsor needed help creating a patient recruitment campaign for a study that had already been branded. The pre-selected name was an anagram — a word formed by rearranging letters within another word or phrase. In this case, the word was taken from the investigational drug name itself – a pretty common method for developing a study moniker. The problem was, though tame by Oxford definition, the word is deeply offensive in cultural context. It’s a word historically used to disparage the very audience the sponsor sought to recruit. Of course, the sponsor was previously unaware of this.

I won’t reveal the word here, but it suffices to say many discussions ensued behind the scenes at DAC. In the end, the sponsor selected another vendor and promptly launched the brand name as planned. Perhaps the decision-makers felt the likelihood of brand-name backlash was too obscure to change course. We’ll never know. One thing is sure: Brand names should be vetted across cultures to ensure relevance and appropriateness.

To be effective, a brand name must meet 3 basic requirements: functionality, universality and simplicity.

1) Functionality: In a crowded clinical marketplace, a study brand does more than just identify; it distinguishes. So choose carefully, and ensure the name embodies the essence of the campaign.

2) Simplicity: Lengthy names, and those that are hard to spell or pronounce, can alienate your audience. And alphabet soup – names composed of initials that mean nothing – are ineffective and quickly forgotten. The best brands evoke positive associations and emotional connections, so the words should have meaning.

3) Universality: Evaluate all the ways the brand name might be pronounced or interpreted wherever it appears. Even if the brand is not global, perform linguistics checks to avoid offending your audience.

Consider the following brand blunders:

  • Reebok Incubus: This women’s running shoe shared its name with Incubus (a mythical creature that assaults women while they sleep).
  • Nissan Moco: In Spanish, “moco” means “snot” or “booger.”
  • TrekStor i.Beat Blaxx: This German MP3 player was named for its sleek black finish, but the phonetic similarities didn’t sit well with many people.

Though these examples are not from clinical trial files, you get the general idea.

So, what’s in a name? Coupled with the slogan (for strategic context) and the logo (for visual identity) … just about everything.

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