CLINICAL RESEARCH AND NUTRACEUTICAL BRAND NAMES AND TRADEMARKS
by Stephen L. DeFelice, M.D.
There is currently a great deal of confusion regarding the
nature and dynamics of the nutraceutical market mainly due to
its newness and because it is different than the traditional pharmaceutical,
OTC and health food markets. In fact, to date, there is no bona
fide U.S. nutraceutical company. In order to diminish the confusion,
and establish a foundation for company participation in this enormous
health sector, it is essential to understand its basic dynamics.
The unique dynamics of the nutraceutical health sector first
dawned on me in 1983. The NIH convened a consensus group of medical
experts to assess the potential role of calcium for the prevention
of osteoporosis. After extensive deliberation, the consensus group
concluded that calcium was indicated for the prevention of post-menopausal
osteoporosis. At that time, little did I realize that this single
event marked the beginning of the Nutraceutical Revolution.
About three months after the NIH consensus group issued its
recommendations, I was sitting at home during cocktail time reading
various lay publications. All contained articles on calcium and
osteoporosis, long after the NIH consensus group report was made
public. It suddenly occurred to me that, because of the continuing
mass media coverage beginning after the consensus group report,
the majority of people in the United States were very well aware
of the calcium-osteoporosis connection.
This was indeed a unique event, and I wondered about the reasons
why. Not even the largest pharmaceutical or food company spending
multi-millions of advertising dollars could have achieved this
high level of national awareness of a single product.
I then decided to evaluate the dynamics of this unique phenomenon.
Its principle characteristics were the following:
1. Published clinical data on the calcium-osteoporosis connection
were evaluated by medical experts.
2. Based on such clinical data, medical experts recommended
the use of calcium for the prevention of post-menopausal osteoporosis.
3. The mass media communicated with and enthusiastically embraced
the recommendations of the medical experts.
4. The mass media then, almost instantaneously, communicated
this medical-expert message to the general public including practicing
physicians, their patients and relatives.
5. Physicians and patients then began to communicate with
each other about this message.
6. Following the mass media educational effort, sales of calcium
began to rise and are continuing to do so - over 15 years later.
I then wondered whether this was simply an oddball phenomenon
or a reliable sign of the beginning of a new health sector where
the mass media, based on the results of clinical data supported
by medical experts, would become the major national promotional
organ for nutraceuticals. Then the fiber and fish oil nutraceutical
phenomena occurred. The dynamics were similar to that of the calcium
phenomenon and continued with other nutraceuticals such as folic
acid and vitamin E. To be sure, other products such as St. John's
Wort and Echinacea, where sufficient clinical support their efficacy
and safety were not published, also captured media attention.
But, increasingly, products supported by the results of clinical
research which dominate the headlines are being accepted by physicians
and the public.
Shortly after the calcium phenomenon, I wondered whether it would be
possible to connect the brand name and trademark of a product to the
mass media educational phenomenon. "Could it be," I said to myself,
"that it is now possible, based on clinical studies, to launch a product
and quickly establish its brand name trademark for very little cost by
using the mass media, and not advertising, as the primary vehicle for
My experience in the pharmaceutical sector taught me that medical
journals use the scientific or generic pharmaceutical name of a product
in their publications rather than the commercial brand name. This
policy, in part, is due to the fact that penicillin is penicillin
regardless of the companies that sell it. The trademark is irrelevant
from a medical point-of-view. It primarily serves as a marketing
function to establish specific product recognition. But nutraceuticals
are quite different than pharmaceuticals. One company's soup or cereal
may be similar to another's, but they are not exactly the same. If, for
example, a study was done with a specific cereal or botanical
nutraceutical, with a more or less similar but not exactly the same
products on the market, the medical journals must logically mention the
trademark of the clinically evaluated product in order to distinguish it
from the other products that are not exactly the same and have not been
clinically evaluated. A company with a potential competitive product
must perform clinical research on its product and establish comparable
efficacy, if a medical journal is both to publish the study as well as
mention its brand name.
There are three recent case histories which clearly demonstrate the
media's pattern of promoting a specific nutraceutical product's brand
name based on the results of clinical studies. They are Ocean Spray
Cranberry Juice, Benecol and Intelligent Quisine. All three products
were clinically evaluated and the results published. All partook in the
nutraceutical dynamics scenario and all achieved some degree of national
recognition without much, if any, advertising. (It is interesting to
note, by the way, that both Bencol and Intelligent Quisine were not in
distribution when the media trumpeted their messages. It is self-evident
that it is best to have one's product in distribution before trademark
In conclusion, it is quite clear that the trademarks of nutraceuticals
can achieve national recognition without much advertising and
at little cost. It is not clear, however, why company management
has not caught on. The most likely reason is that certain characteristics
of the nutraceutical OTC market are different than the ethical
OTC and health food markets. The former is not advertising or
unsubstantiated claims driven. It is media driven based on clinical
studies of specific products. And, I can tell you from personal
experience, companies are not secure in dealing with media. It
is much easier to control advertising than media. On the other
hand, the media has been consistent and friendly to nutraceutical
products, be they generic or brand, which are supported by clinical
data and published in reputable medical journals.
To repeat, we continue to await the birth of the first truly
nutraceutical company. It's exact nature has yet to be determined but
you can be sure that it will rely on mass media to establish its brand
name and trademarks.