The good and bad of brand name as verb

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‘Google it’ – used as a generic term for ‘searching for information on the internet’ has a positive ring to it. I guess the usage helps the brand Google , as it subliminally cues the undisputed leadership position of the brand in the ‘search’ business. It unambiguously conveys that Google equals generic search. Also, chances are a person will actually use Google (and not Bing, Yahoo or DuckDuckGo) when he uses the brand name as a verb. Some other brand names used as verbs include:

Xerox: used freely to indicate a photocopy, the company had to resort to a campaign to discourage people from doing so.

FedEx: perhaps a US-phenomenon to indicate sending parcel through a courier for overnight delivery

Photoshop: used to indicate any modification of an image

Jeep: the former Chrysler Corporation acquired the Jeep brand, along with the remaining assets of its owner American Motors, in 1987

Lycra: a brand of spandex

Microsoft Word: ‘Word document’ refers to any text document irrespective of which software it was created on (chances are it will be on Microsoft Word!)

In South India, I have heard of scouring powders generically being referred to as ‘Sabena’ (a brand name).

But when consumers use a brand name as a verb, is it always a good thing for the brand? Apparently not. Some brands have become so ‘genericized’ over time that we no longer associate them as brand names in our minds.

Bikini: trademark previously owned by its creator Louis Reard

Yo-Yo: trademark previously owned by Duncan Toys Company

Escalator: an Otis-owned trademark

As this website explains the downside of this practice: ‘one consequence of a trademark becoming generic is that the exclusive rights which may attach to the use or registration of the trademark can no longer be legally enforced. This process of genericide may result where the trademark owner does not maintain or enforce such rights‘.

So it appears to me that when consumers use a brand name as a verb in a virtual monopoly situation (e.g. Google for search) the brand actually benefits from that practice. It keeps furthering the notion. But when the usage happens in a category where many small players operate (maybe even dominate the category) there is no apparent benefit to the brand when used as a verb. Example: Xerox. When you photocopy a document on any one of the myriad brands and yet refer to it as ‘xeroxing’ it is to the detriment of Xerox, the brand. In most other cases the usage doesn’t really matter as the brand name connotation has virtually disappeared – be it escalator or bikini. It also means that the original brand owners did not do enough to protect their trademark from being generic. Any other examples, beneficial or detrimental, of brand name as verb? Do comment in.

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  1. ‘Wedding Filmer’ 😀 the brand name, coined as a spin-off on the movie, The Wedding Singer, with Filmer not even being an actual word has today become a descriptor for anyone attempting to shoot a wedding cinematically or even someone who was once called a videographer. The press and wedding industry use it quite often in statements like, ‘many wedding filmers now days are…’ I uses it’s bridged the space in between being a camera operator and a filmmaker for many in-between aspirants 🙂

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