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The pill branding

An analysis of strategies for female emergency contraceptive pills finds major intercultural differences

Pill branding

The morning after pill is currently available without a prescription in many countries across the world but, as we'll show, naming and branding strategies for the Pill vary significantly from country to country.

In the UK, Levonelle with the active ingredient levonorgestrel and ellaOne containing ulipristal acetate are sold over the counter to girls over 16 since 2001. However, in more traditional countries like Germany, Poland, Italy, Hungary, Croatia and Greece, female emergency contraceptives needed to be prescribed by a doctor. After long discussions between politicians in the respective countries about its safety, and after the CHMP's (EMA Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use) recommendation, the European Commission finally made the binding landmark decision of switching the ellaOne (ulipristal acetate) pill to an OTC drug. Since ellaOne is registered at a European level, the European Commission could have a great influence on the countries. Since mid-March 2015 ellaOne can be purchased in German pharmacies, and since the end of April in Croatian pharmacies. Although the decision by the European Commission is binding, there is still some leeway for the countries. Finally, ellaOne will be available over the counter in all European countries except for Hungary. After this change, the Law of the Advertising of Medicaments (Heilmittelwerbegesetz) was adapted, and now includes that morning after pills cannot be directly addressed to consumers, even though it is not a prescription drug anymore. For prescription drugs it is of course usual in Germany that advertising is limited to healthcare professionals.

Names for morning after pills on trial
Both as a prescription and as an OTC brand, names for pharmaceuticals need to meet high standards. OTC names should equally address highly versatile target groups, namely doctors, pharmacists and patients. Memorable names that are easy to pronounce, and that convey an appealing message can encourage sales. We analysed 104 brand names, including packages, slogans and brand communication from all over the world. The Chinese market was not taken into account due to its different naming approach.

Depending on the culture, illustrative brand names that tell a story convey big differences in content

Lack of strong brands
Only a few patient-oriented brands exist worldwide, including Plan B One Step (Teva), Next Choice One Dose (Actavis), ellaOne (HRA Pharma), My Way (Gavis) and Escapelle (Gedeon Richter). These brands stand out with illustrations and a holistic branding approach. Yet, functional descriptive names based on the active ingredient and the indication or dosage form are dominating. Given that the content of these names is not tailored to the patients' needs, they may not be able to stand up to strong brands in the long run. Out of the set of descriptive names, the few illustrative and emotionally positioned brands clearly stand out.

The American way of life
Depending on the culture, illustrative brand names that tell a story convey big differences in the content which, in turn, provide insights about the societal position of the woman. In the US, brand communication focuses on the woman's freedom of choice. TV ads and websites show smiling, equal couples and self-confident women. The tonality that comes across is about ease, effortlessness and lightheartedness. The slogans also communicate this verbally: “For the perfectly imperfect”, “The choice is at your hands” and “It's your choice. Next Choice”. 

Desperation in India, Iran and Kenya
Negative messages prevail in the analysed Asian, African and Latin American markets (eg Unwanted, PregNon, Ovocease, Preventol, Escapelle). TV ads show desperate young women and crying girls. The slogan of the Indian manufacturer Piramal for the drug i-pill is: “Because prevention is better than abortion”. The baseline reflects the seriousness and dimension of taking the Pill, opposing the messages in the US. In Kenya, a female angel is used as a key visual and gives an allusion of the foetus' death on the packaging of the pill Emcon. In Eastern Europe and Belarus, the positioning rather targets the topic of escape, and in Latin American countries, the brands focus on the very neutral topic of contraception.

Restraint in Western Europe
Contrary to the emergency contraceptive pill branding in Latin American countries, the topic of the morning after pill is treated rather more objectively in Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand. One of the reasons may be the strict legislation for healthcare advertising, but perhaps also a restraint by the marketing departments of the pharmaceutical companies. Naming is neutral and functional; there are numerous descriptive names like PiDaNa (an abbreviation for 'morning after pill' in German) in Germany. Only ellaOne and ella by the French manufacturer HRA Pharma are currently standing out with holistic brandings in the market. The names are neutral and open regarding the content. Yet, the woman is clearly the centre of attention (ella = she in Spanish).

Naming and branding recommendations
Drawing on a branding study we carried out, we make the following naming and branding recommendations - applicable to contraception or any other therapeutic area.

1. Neutral and Positive Names
Names are recommended to be neutral and/or positive to enhance patients' compliance. A positive name can convey a positive image or story that gives hope and is encouraging. Negative names can frighten a patient even more.

2. No exaggerations
From a regulatory perspective, names should not overstate the efficiency of a medication. A promotional claim is not allowed in a brand name for pharmaceutical products. However, a USP can be highlighted if it is scientifically proven.

3. No misleading names
Pharmaceutical brand names should not cause confusion since this can lead to a risk for patients. For example, if names suggest that the medication belongs to gastroenterology, although it is an anticoagulant, the name may be the source for medical errors.

4. No down-playing of serious situations
Delicate situations like health issues require sensitiveness and tactfulness. If a medication for a severe illness is communicated with happiness and consistently smiling faces, it is neither adequate nor credible.

5. Balancing seriousness and hope
Neither creating a happy nor a very sad atmosphere is beneficial in the communication. A good balance needs to be found that expresses relevant health and safety concerns. A problem-solution approach is very often the way to go.

6. No evaluation
Names should not incorporate any sort of evaluation or subjective opinion. The brand name Unwanted is clearly subjective.

7. Artificial names
Artificial names are recommended to be used since they are unique, give the best chance for legal trademark registration in the pharmaceutical class, and are more likely to be approved promptly by the regulatory authorities. Moreover they are much more suitable to perform well digitally with regard to online visibility. Artificial names are open for many communication and branding approaches.

8. Remain open
A common habit is to incorporate the company's name as an overarching element, or to indicate the relevant therapeutic area. Yet, although depending on each case, a rule of thumb is to remain completely open, since a hint to a therapeutic area can restrict the name when the brand develops into other areas. If a company's name forms part of a product name, creative scope is restricted and it may lead to confusion within the portfolio.

9. Global approach
Only one or two names for a global brand that will be launched in different cultures are recommended to guarantee a harmonic and holistic branding across all countries. If adaption is required, the central theme needs to be kept.

10. Visualisation 
Strong visuals are highly beneficial to support the name and communication. Currently, most visuals are boring, as the analysis of the emergency pill branding has shown. A unique, creative logo and/or visual can function as an anchor next to the name. 

23rd October 2015

23rd October 2015

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