Genericide: Are brands being destroyed by their own success?

“I am stuck on Band-Aid, ‘cause a Band-Aid’s stuck on me!” You’ve heard this commercial a million times— in fact, I’m sure you sang along with that jingle just now. But have you heard it recently? The song now goes, “I am stuck on Band-Aid BRAND, ‘cause a Band Aid’s stuck on me!” Why include the word “brand?” In short, to avoid a phenomenon known to those in the advertising and trademark industries as “genericide.”

Huh? Dictionary.com defines genericide as the process by which a brand name loses its distinctive identity as a result of being used to refer to any product or service of its kind.

But that’s a good thing! Brand awareness… am I right? Wrong! While a high level of brand awareness is created through this process, it can have terrible implications for an organization— companies have actually lost legal protection due to their name’s widespread popularity. A frequently used trademark is at risk, as its intellectual property rights may be lost and competitors enabled to use the genericized trademark to describe their similar products. That is, unless the owner of an effected trademark works sufficiently to correct and prevent such broad use.

 That doesn’t seem right. So a company is essentially being destroyed by its own success? In a sense, yes. But this is due to improper positioning of a brand name in the first place, so the company has played a role in its own demise. It is critical to make clear to the consumer that the trademark represents the brand and not the product itself. Brand positioning is a simple formula: Brand Name + Product Name = Proper Positioning. In the instance of Band Aid cited above, Band Aid (brand name) is a brand of adhesive bandages (product name).

Who else has fallen victim to genericide? The list goes on and on! Here are some popular cases of genericide. While all of them have been trademarked at some point in their histories, some of them have lost legal protection due to their name’s widespread popularity. You’ll find that the brand name is what we have started to refer to these products as today!

Brand Name Actual Product Name Company
Bubble wrap Air bubble packaging Sealed Air Corporation
Dumpster Mobile garbage bin Dempster Brothers
Kleenex Tissue Kimberly-Clark
Escalator Moving stairway Otis
Thermos Vacuum flask Thermos, LLC.

How can you prevent this from happening to your organization? To put it simply, organizations should use the proper positioning formula above. For instance, “Dumpster” should have been treated as, “Dumpster mobile garbage bin” in all promotional materials/efforts. To prevent trademarks from becoming generic, many trademark owners are running aggressive ad campaigns to educate consumers to view its trademark as a source identifier as opposed to the product name. Here’s a brilliant example from Velcro, where they have lawyers pleading with the public to refer to the product as, “Hook and loop.”

The takeaway? Generocide is a powerful lesson in proper brand positioning. Imagine not being able to reap the benefits of a high level of brand awareness! If you’re already too far gone, consider exploring a creative  public outreach campaign aimed at educating consumers on the dangers of brand name misuse.

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