Brand Triumph or Downfall? Exploring the Phenomenon of Genericide

Brand Triumph or Downfall? Exploring the Phenomenon of Genericide

Brand Triumph or Downfall? Exploring the Phenomenon of Genericide

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Imagine you were to invite your family to your house for a BBQ, what would you ask them to bring along? Probably a “coke,” “frisbee,” or a “Jacuzzi”, right? However, did you know that these words are not just product descriptions but were once branding language exclusive to Coca Cola, Wham-O’s flying disk toy, and the Whirlpool bath by Jacuzzi respectively? This is precisely what ‘genericide’ is about – a phenomenon where brands lose their protected trademark status because, in a twist of irony, their names become too popular.

Powerhouse organizations such as Google, Xerox, and Band-Aid have been grappling with this issue for years. As their products became phenomenally successful, the brand names gradually started replacing the generic terms for the goods and services they provided. For instance, most people now say they’ll “Google” something, instead of saying they’ll “do an internet search.”

The process of a trademark turning generic happens progressively and often imperceptibly. The tipping point occurs when a sizable portion of the public primarily understands the brand name to refer to the product category as a whole, rather than an indicator of the product’s source. Consider ‘Aspirin’ – a name coined as a trademark by Bayer for their acetylsalicylic acid but due to its widespread common use, it is now a generic term for the drug in numerous countries.

While on the surface, this might appear to be a splendid success metric for a brand, it’s a potential catastrophe in the makings. Why? The upshot of genericide is that competitors are allowed to use the brand name as a common term, eroding distinctiveness, reducing market share and inevitably decreasing profits. Google, for instance, has been striking down court cases repeatedly to protect its brand name from getting ‘genericized.’

Fortunately, there are legal approaches and preventive strategies available for brand guardians and entrepreneurs. Diligent safeguard measures such as using a trademark symbol, maintaining a unique and distinctive brand name, and discouraging the use of the brand name as a verb can help preserve their identity.

One fascinating case study is that of Xerox. The company waged a successful battle against genericide by launching an aggressive advertising campaign reminding consumers that “You can’t ‘xerox’ a document, but you can ‘copy’ it on a Xerox Brand copying machine”. By doing so, they managed to save their brand name from turning generic.

Parallel to the fear of fading into oblivity, genericide holds an equally unsettling place in a brand’s story. It’s an unintended consequence of success, a paradox in which your brand can ultimately be a casualty. To escape this threat, businesses must be vigilant about protecting their brand names while upholding the distinctiveness that fuels their significance in the first place.

Are you a brand manager or entrepreneur walking this tightrope of gigantic success and the risk of genericide? If so, your insights and experiences would add enormous value to this intriguing conversation on genericide. Please share your thoughts, or reach out to us for professional advice on protecting your brand from meeting a generic end.

Casey Jones Avatar
Casey Jones
9 months ago

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