If you’ve ever found yourself absentmindedly humming the “oh-oh-oh-Ozempic” jingle, you have David Payton to blame.
The singer-songwriter, who was in the Bay City Rollers, co-wrote “Magic,” a 1975 hit for his band Pilot, which he reworked and sang for the TV commercials for trendy weight-loss drugs that run continuously on network television.
“I’ve heard from doctors about patients who don’t remember the names of the drugs but sing the songs,” a former product manager for pharmaceutical companies including Merck and Pfizer told The Post. “Of course, doctors confirm the names of the drugs. But they know what their patients mean. They also watched the ads.
Indeed, “One thing drug advertising does is teach people about brand names,” Adrienne Faerber, a researcher in drug advertising, marketing and policy, told The Post. “Jingles are perfect for that.
“How do you learn your alphabet? Through a song. How do you learn the name of the drug? Through a song. The songs are super upbeat, even when they’re talking about diseases and horrible side effects.”
(See also: Jardiance, “the little pill with a big story to tell” and a crazy jingle.)
Developing a pharmaceutical product can cost billions of dollars, so promoting it is essential. And it all starts with the name.
The process often starts with a list of about 1,000 names, according to Scott Piergrossi, president of creative for the Brand Institute, a prolific pharmaceutical namelist. “We’re trying to craft a name that’s typical of established names,” he told The Post. “They’ll have five to nine letters and two to four syllables.”
But it even comes down to the exact letters.
“Let’s say there’s an oral drug instead of an injectable, we’ll explore something that sounds liquid or has an O in it,” Fernando Fernandez, managing director of BX: Brand Experience Design Group, told The Post. “If we expect a product to have an extra level of potency, we might put an X in the name.”
Research shows that users like to take drugs with the letter Z, which may have played a role in the naming of Ozempic and Zepbound. “Some people say the Z or X makes the name stand out and look unique,” one big pharma executive told The Post.
According to the Canadian Medical Journal, the letters X, Y and Z convey “high technology, science” [sic] feeling for drugs such as the sleeping pill Xanax.
The executive likes Xanax for another reason: “It’s a palindrome.” But, he added, “people had to learn to pronounce X as Z. Maybe it couldn’t start with Z because the FDA thought it was making too many promises to put consumers to sleep.”
Sometimes the same drug has several names depending on its use. For example, most of today’s popular weight loss injections began as type 2 diabetes medications.
Zepbound, for example, has the same formula as the diabetes drug Mounjaro, and both are made by Eli Lilly.
While the company that came up with the name Zepbound is so tight-lipped that its representatives won’t even admit they did the work, a big pharma executive told The Post, “Zepbound just sounds to me like an inspired pickup of the generic name Tirzepatide .”
Similarly, Ozempic is approved to lower blood sugar in patients with type 2 diabetes — while Wegovy, which shares its parent company Novo Nordisk and the main ingredient, semaglutide — is designed for weight loss.
“People are hesitant to take medicine,” a veteran medical ad told The Post. “If they don’t have diabetes, they wonder why they’re taking diabetes medicine to lose weight.” The slimming drug should be called differently, although it is very close to the same. The name Wegovy is playful and memorable, and it clearly works.”
Amy Schumer, Chelsea Handler and Sharon Osbourne admitted to using the diabetic version to lose weight, while Elon Musk attributed a 20-pound weight loss to Wegovy and fasting.
Members of the naming team often “put together the brand’s personality,” the advertising veteran said. “They might ask, ‘If the drug was a car, would it be a Ferrari or a Mazda?'” Then they work to find a name within those parameters [and others].”
In the case of Latisse, which is used for eyelash growth and was popularized by Claire Danes, it was supposed to sound sexier than Lumigan, the glaucoma drug it came from after it was discovered that eyelash growth was a side effect of Lumigan .
Because Latisse “is almost in the cosmetic space, we looked at the artistry and the music while conveying the confidence and excitement that comes with longer lashes,” Piergrossi said. “The art theme came about because you ‘sculpt’ eyelashes.”
Of the many art-oriented names that were considered, one rose to the top: “The French painter and sculptor [Henri] Mathis. It’s in the name. Also, ‘La’ includes the initials of eyelashes and sounds very feminine.”
The strategy must have worked. Between 2009 and 2018, Latisse generated over $70 million in annual sales.
“Research shows that if you ask for a particular drug, sometimes the doctor wants to get you out of the office and just prescribe what you ask for,” the advertising veteran said. “At the end of the day, they give you what you want unless they have a good reason not to.”