These three very different items have something in common. Can you guess what it is?
All have fallen victim to “genericization,” or when a brand becomes so popular, so engrained in our brains that the name becomes synonymous with the product. At first blush, you might think this is a great thing. All tissues are known as Kleenex! How great is that for the makers of Kleenex? After all, no one ever says “I need a Puffs for my nose.”
But believe it or not, this is not necessarily a good thing. If you were CEO of Bentley, would you want all cars known as Bentleys? Definitely not. In some instances, it actually cheapens the value of the brand.
So from the perspective of the legal department, the marketing department can actually do their job too well. The problem is that you don’t want your branding efforts to turn your product into a generic. And if your brand name does become too generic, the ability to trademark it is gone as well. Examples? Bayer couldn’t trademark aspirin and B.F. Goodrich couldn’t trademark zipper. They’re just considered common nouns now. Escalator and thermos suffered the same fate.
Xerox has thus far successfully fought off attempts to genericize their brand – they still have their trademark even though “xerox” is listed as both a noun and a verb in the dictionary. (I still use the term frequently and if I go to Kinkos and ask for a xerox of something, the 20-something clerk looks at me like I have three heads. I mean a copy please. Really, they used to be called xeroxes. It was the name of the machine…)
Consider the following:
- google is now a verb meaning to search on the internet (you might Yahoo, but not as many do)
- iPod substitutes for almost any portable music player (do you remember the Sony Walkman?)
- Fedex means to send something overnight (Oops, UPS)
- iPad is quickly becoming the term for any tablet computer (although Kindle has grabbed the e-Reader name)
Is there any way to battle this genericization? What can you do if your product names aren’t the generic name?
Some credit unions have tried to fight back against the genericization of their products in banking terms. In an effort to differentiate their products and services, many credit unions banned (formally or informally) terms like banking, checking account and CDs. But it’s almost impossible to replace these commonly-used words with terms like share draft, share certificate and member-owner when no one outside the credit union uses them.
Still, imagine what the world would be like if all financial institutions offered FREE online credit-unioning!