April 11, 2008



Name that drug!
by Jim Hightower

What does the word Prozac say to you? Or Viagra? Yes, they're brand names for widely used prescription drugs, but how did they get those names?

Believe it or not, there is a naming industry. It consists of consulting firms that specialize in the art, science and voodoo of helping pharmaceutical giants come up with monikers that supposedly will sear themselves into the public psyche, subliminally causing the consumers to feel positive about the product and demand that particular drug.

Sound hokey? Be your own judge. The consultants (who get paid up to $500,000 per drug name) insist that letters are imbued with psychological meaning. P,T, and K, they claim, convey effectiveness. Z is speed, X is scientific, and L is calming.

Take the antidepressant, Prozac. The honcho of Namebase, the branding firm that worked with Eli Lilly to name this drug, can get all worked up about the impact of just the first syllable. “Pro,” he explained to an AP reporter, “makes the speaker pucker up and push out a burst of air, which grabs attention and implies effectiveness.”

Hmmm. Would that burst of positiveness also applies to profane, profligate, procrastinate, promiscuous and other “pro” words with negative meanings? But I’m not a naming consultant, so who am I to question?

Let’s move on to Viagra. Anthony Shore, who is “global director of naming” for another branding firm informs us that this appellation is all about power, causing gullible consumers to associate the product with Niagara Falls. On the other hand, another erectile dysfunction drug named Cialis is more of a metro-male term. Shore says that it is a smooth, fluid sound that conveys a sense of intimacy.

The word that comes to mind when I hear such claims by high-paid consultants is claptrap — conveying artifice, humbuggery and a deep sense of being had.

For more information on Jim Hightower's work — and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown— visit www.jimhightower.com


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