Thanks for Nothing

One of my favorite legal concepts is “genericide” or “genericize.”  That is when the public takes a perfectly good trademark and makes it value-less to the trademark owner by turning it into an everyday word. I like the drama of “genericide” because it truly is a brand-killer.  Often, it is when the marketing has been almost too successful, and when people think of a product they think of only one brand.  We are all guilty of it.

“Hand me a Kleenex.” “Can you give me that packet of Post-its?” “Google it!” I have said them all, and I don’t actually care if it is a Puffs tissue, a Office Depot brand sticky-note, or you use Bing.  nope, I don’t know what brand is in the photo, but I guarantee I called it a Post-It note in its short, but useful lifetime.  I used a valid trademark as a generic term.  I committed genericide.  And, yes, it does make me a little bit sad when I catch myself doing so.

So what do you do as a consumer?  Well, if you care, be clear when you want a specific brand and when you don’t.  It’s OK to say you want a zip-top baggie rather than a Zip-Loc.  Xerox even runs ads to give you a lesson on how not to commit genericide.

As a company, you want customers to think of you, but as a first word, not the only word.  Make sure you add the generic term to the brand.  Thermos used to be a trademark for vacuum flasks, but not anymore.  Same is true for a lot of words.   Advertise your product, but make sure they can name the product in ways other than just your trademark.

Take a lesson from Xerox.  Tell your customers “Thank  you!” for buying your branded product by making sure they know the difference between the two rather than “Thanks for nothing” as they love your brand to death.  If they conflate your brand and the product, then you end up having do come up with an all-new brand when everyone is using your old one. After all, you would rather not have to do two branding strategies for the exact same product.  So take what might be a step back to be able to keep moving forward.


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