Friday, April 23, 2010


When this blog was originally mooted it was intended to cover purely personal development topics. Later it was decided to extend it to other management topics. This article by U NARAYANADAS on branding in the pharmaceutical industry, the first in a series of four appeared in Express Pharma Pulse of December 9, 2004


Brands have to be constantly nurtured and safeguarded against attrition by competitors, says U NARAYANADAS

'Branding is dead; Long live 'Branding' seems to be all that the copywriter could say to sum up the situation. It is perhaps unfair to accuse him of being 'cliché' prone or suffering from an acute bout of copywriter's block. His more immediate concern was to find a caption that says it all in one phrase. The caption reflects the misery of FMCG marketers, facing intense competition of the liberalised millennium. The days when the big boys lorded it over, are - over, with consumers peeking at discount notices displayed in FOODWORLD counters rather than being brand loyal.

Pharma marketers have seen it all. They are therefore wiser and smarter. The industry with more than 23,000 players and 75,000 brands totalling into a retail market of Rs 18000 crores in 2003, has paid Charles Darwin his most well deserved compliment - by proving his theory.


The principles of FMCG marketing have often been applied to marketing pharma products although there is a distinct difference between the two. Marketing has begun in pharma with the application of the principles of FMCG marketing in the mid seventies. Was it mere selling before? The authorities seem to think so! Some pharma brands continue to grow to the envy of their competitors. Some are bought and sold and are high value assets like prime real estate.

Yet there is no place for complacence. Brands have to be constantly nurtured and safeguarded against attrition by competitors. Call it Customer Relationship Management or Customer Retention Management if you will. A terse advertisement for pharma sales professionals in the nineties phrased it with telling effect: ''Today the competition is intense; tomorrow it will be cut throat.''

The USP of the former big boys - read MNCs - was quality. Today, nobody can claim a monopoly over quality. The customer (in case of pharma, the proxy customer) refuses to accept brand differentiation. The market is a leveller. It probably is a tribute to the Indian scientific talent but they were able to replicate 'MNC quality at Indian prices'. That is one of the reasons for crying foul over IPRs. They may have a point there considering that a new product takes 12 years to reach the shopkeeper's shelf from its conceptual embryo and consumes US $100 million.

But again they may not, considering the humanitarian dimension and not just ethics and commerce of the issue. Some MNCs, which sought to sell anti-HIV (AIDS) drugs @ US $10,000 for a course against their Indian competitors' prices of US $350 - 450, climbed down and withdrew their suit for violation of IPRs in the South African Supreme Court. How do pharma marketers manage such competition is an eternal question - to which even they would like to know the answer.


There are many speculations as to how pharma brands are named. A part of a product's generic name is included in the name to give the prescribing physician an idea of the content. Sometimes the effects of the product are played upon.

There is an interesting sidelight to this: Some years ago when the anti-ulcer drug ranitidine and its combinations were introduced (see Table 1*), most companies used the first three letters 'Ran', as part of their brand name throwing up such bizarre words as Random and Randon. The full list is amusing with names like Ranicom (no dot there) and Ranidom (no Kingdom either) which reflects the inventiveness of pharma product managers. Others have used the last three letters of the original brand Zantac (the Indian variation of the name is Zinetac) coining names like Rantac and Histac.Finally somebody decided to steal everybody's thunder by using the generic fraction as well as the product's effect - of reducing acid. Lo and behold! The name Rancid was born. Needless to say what happened to the brand!

When a number of brands of the antibiotic Ciprofloxacin hit the market there was this Hinglish version: Mahaquin derived from the name of its class, Fluoro-quinolones.

The list in Table 1* is only a sample (not exhaustive) of brands of one drug in one class for one disease. Drug Today lists 47 plain ranitidine and 45 ranitidine combinations (again not exhaustive). [*EPP omitted the table in its publication - BRIHAS]


Short, connotative (as mentioned earlier) and euphonic names help recall. Phonetic similarities result in conflicts and turf wars especially when a large number of brands have to conform to such restrictive conditions.

There is little or no differentiation in the case of Indian pharma brands as they are only different names of the same generic component. The net 'out-take' of a brand - for the consumer - depends on practical experience and is often a subjective attribute.

Brands with the same bio-equivalence are accepted or rejected by different physicians depending on their first experience.


The list of generic names is confusing enough. Thus, ranitidine (used as an example above), which belongs to a class of anti-peptic ulcer drugs called H2 receptor antagonists, has such siblings as cimetidine, famotidine, roxatidinie, loxitidine, nizatidine, etc.

The other classes of drugs, which treat or mitigate peptic ulcer, are antacids, mucoprotectives, local anaesthetics, proton-pump inhibitors and prostaglandin analogues. Each class has a number of drugs and dozens of brands of each drug.

The objective of all the drugs is similar: healing stomach ulcers/relieving symptoms. How does one write taglines for each of these brands to make the prescribing physician remember them? The product managers earn their sobriquet - MC (Master of Clichés) - by coining cliché-ridden taglines: every second brand is 'First in India'; every nutritional is 'Next best to nature'; every product used for women's diseases is a 'Tribute to womanhood'; every other product is 'Novel'; a 'Revolutionary therapy'; 'Trusted and tested'; 'Recommended worldwide'; an 'Innovative breakthrough'; a 'Drug of choice'; 'Most advanced'; 'USFDA Approved'; manufactured in a 'State-of-the-art' facility (not factory!) and is 'Very economical' as the word cheap is taboo.


The year 2002-3 saw the introduction of about 3,400 new brands according to market audit reports. The latest edition of Drug Today consists of a 1000 pages. Imagine the physician having to write a prescription as soon as he diagnosed a patient and the task of the marketer to make the physician remember his brand name - to conquer that elusive 'mind share'.

The prescribing physicians are not a captive audience that can be bamboozled with glamorous models and glitzy commercials. A large proportion of selling in pharma is personal, each prescribing physician being met by over 200 - 250 Medical Representatives every month. The physicians, their staff and patients often view Medical Representatives, as uninvited guests and intruders. Each Medical Representative gets 180 - 300 seconds (on an average) in an interview to promote 6 - 10 products (on an average). The success of a brand therefore depends as much on the creativity of the back room boys as on the ability of the Medical Representatives and their field controllers to win the confidence of physicians.

Medical Representatives are all too familiar with physicians - whom they have been wooing to impress during a number visits for their 'prescription support', in their patois, glibly saying 'Yes, I have been regularly prescribing your… … …' naming a competitive brand.

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