Branding Spotlight: When a Brand Becomes More Than Just A Brand
“Hand me that Kleenex”.
“I’m going to Xerox these forms”.
“Google that information for me”.
These are brands that have become a part of our everyday language. Sometimes the popularity of a brand becomes so large that its name is used synonymously with an action or thing, even when that particular product brand is not actually being used.
They even have a name for this. It’s called a genericized trademark.
A genericized trademark (also known as a generic trademark, proprietary eponym) is a trademark or brand name that has become the colloquial or generic description for, or synonymous with, a general class of product or service, rather than as an indicator of source or affiliation (“secondary meaning”) as intended by the trademark’s holder. Using a genericized trademark to refer to the general form of what that trademark represents is a form of metonymy.
I listed some brands that have become bigger than the product itself and have become genericized trademarks (Or for legal terms, have been close or on their way to becoming genericized trademarks)
The Band-Aid was invented in 1920 by Earle Dickson, an employee of Johnson & Johnson, for his wife Josephine Dickson, who frequently cut and burned herself while cooking. The prototype product allowed his wife to dress her wounds without assistance. Dickson, a Highland Park, New Jersey, resident at the time, passed the idea on to his employer who then went on to produce and market the product as the Band-Aid.
Band-aid is used to define any type of adhesive bandage. (ex. “My leg hurts, Mommy. Can I get a band-aid?”)
Xerox was founded in 1906 in Rochester as “The Haloid Photographic Company”, which originally manufactured photographic paper and equipment. The company subsequently changed its name to “Haloid Xerox” in 1958 and then simply “Xerox” in 1961.
Xerox is usually used as a verb to describe the act of making paper copies of something. (ex. “If you could run down to the print room and xerox these documents for me.”)
Google began in January 1996 as a research project by Larry Page and Sergey Brin when they were both Ph.D. students at Stanford University in California.
Google is used as a verb. It has been used to define any online search for information. (ex. I am not sure of the exact quote but I can google it for you.”)
When Windex was invented in 1933 by Harry R. Drackett, it was essentially 100% solvent, and as a flammable product, it had to be sold in metal cans. When modern surfactants were introduced after World War II, the product was reformulated.
Windex is used to refer to any type of window and glass cleaner. (ex. “There are fingerprints all over this mirror. I will need some Windex to remove them.”)
The product and the company date to May 3, 1913, when five entrepreneurs, Archibald Taft, a banker; Edward Hughes, a purveyor of wood and coal; Charles Husband, a bookkeeper; Rufus Myers, a lawyer; and William Hussey, a miner, invested $100 apiece to set up the first commercial-scale liquid bleach factory in the United States, on the east side of San Francisco Bay. The firm was first called the Electro-Alkaline Company. The name of its original bleach product, Clorox, was coined as a portmanteau of chlorine and sodium hydroxide, the two main ingredients.
Even though Clorax actually makes several products under that name it is still used to define any household bleaching product. (ex. “The bathroom tiles were so stained with mildew I had to use Clorox to clean them”)
The cotton swab was invented in the 1920s by Leo Gerstenzang after he attached wads of cotton to toothpicks. His product, which he named “Baby Gays”, went on to become the most widely sold brand name, “Q-tips”, with the Q standing for “quality”.
When referring to a cotton swab most people will use the term Q-tip. (e.x. “I used a Q-tip to clean the wax out of my ears.”)
The material from which Kleenex is made was originally called “Cheesecloth UGG,” and was designed by Kimberly-Clark during World War I. It came to be used in gas mask filters during the war as a replacement for cotton, which was in high demand for use as a surgical dressing.
The Kimberly-Clark Corporation created the first Western facial tissue in 1924.
Kleenex has been referred to as any facial tissue. (ex. “I had to keep wiping my nose with a Kleenex in the meeting because it would not stop running.”)
Is it a pro or a con to become a household name?
While it may seem the goal of a company to become a household name, a brand can be so widely used that it becomes “generic” and can run the risk of losing its original trademark. When a brand is so widely used, it can lose its right to registration and its right to protection.
Here’s a short list of brands that have done just that.:
- Aspirin, originally a trademark of Bayer AG
- Butterscotch, originally a trademark of Parkinson’s
- Escalator, originally a trademark of Otis Elevator Company
- Heroin, originally a trademark of Bayer AG
- Kerosene, originally a trademark of Abraham Gesner
- Phillips-head screw, named after Henry F. Phillips
- Thermos, originally a trademark of Thermos GmbH
- Yo-yo, originally a trademark of Duncan Yo-Yo Company
- Zipper, originally a trademark of B.F. Goodrich
Can you think of any other brands that we use today that have become generic terms?
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