Brand name as verb: can consumers be coerced?

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Consumers using brand names as verbs is not new. Google and Xerox are the oft quoted examples in such a practice. Many of such examples have happened voluntarily without any effort from the brand. I guess that happens when a brand is either the pioneer in a category or has such a monopoly that no competition appears in the mental horizon.

Brands urging consumers to use their brand name as a verb is also not new. Remember the ‘Do you Yahoo?’ campaign? And then there are examples of companies actively preventing consumers from using the brand name as a verb. The downside of a brand name becoming generic is that it erodes competitive advantage of a trademark. Imagine the loss of revenue to Fevistick when a consumer asks for it by name and the shopkeeper hands him a competing brand. As this enlightening article says:

“NEVER use a trademark as a verb. Trademarks are products or services, never actions.” INTA provides this example: “You are NOT rollerblading, but in-line skating with Rollerblade in-line skates.” It also offers this test: “A good test for correct usage of a trademark is to remove the trademark from the sentence and see if the sentence (generic) still makes sense.

Recently a few Indian brands have invested in high decibel advertising campaigns, plugging the usage of the brand name as a verb. FlipKart tried it in 2012 with ‘I don’t shop anymore, I just Flipkart it’. MagicBricks asks ‘MagicBricks kiya kya?’ and #Paytmkaro says, well, er…Paytm.

What do I make of all this?

I feel it is best for brands when consumers voluntarily use the brand name as a verb. It usually happens when consumers love the brand, use it a lot and it becomes an integral part of their lives. ‘Just WhatsApp it’ is a commonly heard phrase and it hasn’t happened because of any advertising.

Brands may – the operative word being may, succeed in getting consumers to use the name as verb, but it will be an expensive, uphill task. It will seem forced as you are getting consumers to mouth a phrase they don’t normally use.

Success depends on a few factors: do consumers believe that the brand is the most dominant player in that category? I am neither a regular user nor in market for real estate; even I feel there are many other players in the category and it feels forced for MagicBricks to say ‘MagicBricks karo’. I also feel it fails the test outlined here:

A good test for correct usage of a trademark is to remove the trademark from the sentence and see if the sentence (generic) still makes sense.

Is the consumer clear about the category which is being represented? ‘Google it’ means ‘search for it’ and ‘Xerox it’ means ‘photocopy it’. In the case of ‘Paytm it’ I guess they are aiming to connote ‘transfer cash electronically’. I guess the brand has evolved from a ‘re-charge’ brand to ‘mobile commerce platform’ and hence from a strategy point of view, verbing it makes sense.

I feel Paytm has a relatively better chance of succeeding in ‘verbing’ if they mount a sustained campaign (Flipkart gave up after the 2012 ads). It may not feel as natural and powerful as consumer generated ones like ‘WhatsApp it’ but it makes strategic sense for the brand to try and own a crowded category. Your comments?

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