"Verbifying" a brand or product can be the most sincere form of flattery OR it can end up destroying the legal power of a trademark. For example, Xerox became such a common term meaning photo copy that in order to not lose their trademark launched an extensive multi-year campaign to publishers specifically asking that their name not be verbalized.
Along the same lines as being verbalized, ubiquitous can be another great marketing tool or a publicity disaster. Being ubiquitous is being omnipresent, appearing everywhere. It's the ultimate in top of mind awareness.
When you hear "The Big Apple" one always thinks of New York City and "Big Easy" as New Orleans. Back in the late 1980's, Sy Sperling brought awareness to a very hidden industry when he announced "I'm not only the President, I'm a Client" and made Hair Club for Men synonymous with hair replacement.
When Hans Wiemann sold his St Louis hair restoration company, he sold the name, too. Years later when he wanted to open another business, he could not use his own name. Recently, Hans Wiemann hair restoration studio was sold to Aderans Co., a Tokyo-based company who also owns Hair Club for Men and Bosley, and the business is operating under the Hans Wiemann name.
In the 1970's a detergent launched a campaign "Ring Around The Collar". Their sales skyrocketed and the slogan is still mentioned four decades later. Yet, if you ask anyone what brand it is, they usually say Tide. Wrong! The product is WISK.
PRODUCTS AND BRANDS THAT HAVE GENERIC MEANING
Because of their popularity or uniqueness, many brands have become generic terms. Here are examples of their fate:
- Jet Ski, a brand owned by Kawasaki, generally is used to refer to personal watercrafts;
- Bubble Wrap, owned by Sealed Air Corporation, and Styrofoam are terms used for packaging;
- Jacuzzi if often used to mean hot tubs or jetted bathtubs;
- Ping Pong - was referred to as a table sport until Summer Olympics made "table tennis" a recognized sport in 1988;
- Q-Tips, referring to a cotton swab on a stick, is a brand with Q implying Quality;
- Velcro is a brand, the category is hook and loop fasteners;
- Band-Aids are a brand, not a generic term for an adhesive gauze;
- Plexiglas is a brand and acrylic glass is the category;
- Microsoft stresses that PowerPoint can only be used to refer to their brand and not as a term representing a presentation and graphics program.
While it is good for a brand to have top of mind awareness, it can be disastrous for it to represent a category with competing brands that piggy-back on the popularity and steal their sales. This tends to happen when a brand or product creates or reinvents a category or becomes bigger than the category. It's good news; bad news!
There's a thin line that marketers must watch to ensure brand and product awareness and popularity without crossing over to dilute their name with competing generic products. Watch what you wish! As Garth Brooks sings "Thank God for Unanswered Prayers".
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