If you are about to launch an innovative product, the kind that has never existed before, you'd better give it a great name -- memorable, snappy and easy to pronounce. But what if your product becomes so popular, that it gives rise to a whole new product category? So popular, that people begin referring to this new category by your product name.
"I am going to get more pampers for my baby."
"Give me a kleenex, I have a cold."
"Let's take a thermos on our trip."
"Let's make some jell-o for dessert."
Pampers, Kleenex, Thermos and Jello-O all used to be innovative products that essentially established totally new product categories. Nowadays, people go shopping for "pampers" even if they will end up buying a box of Huggies.
This phenomenon is called genericide, or a "threat of the brand name being used as a generic term." (( Taylor , C . and Walsh , M . G . ( 2002 ) Legal strategies for protecting brands from genericide: Recent trends in evidence weighted in court cases . Journal of Public Policy and Marketing 21 (1) : 160 – 167 .))
Is genericide good or bad for your brand?
On the one hand, one could argue that it is good. After all, it demonstrates very high awareness about your brand. However, this brand awareness may not necessarily lead to purchases of your brand, since its popularity will prompt other copycat brands to appear. And it may lead to customers buying them, whilst referring to them by the name of your brand.
Whereas there's probably little you can do to prevent competitors from launching similar products, you might want to make sure that genericide does not have negative consequences on the brand of your innovative product.
Professor Judith Lynne Zaichkowsky from Copenhagen Business School suggests the following methods that brand managers can use to protect their brands from genericide: (( J.L. Zaichkowsky, Strategies for distinctive brands, Journal of Brand Management (2010) 17, 548 – 560))
- use the trademark as a descriptive adjective, such as Rollerblade ® in-line skates or I-POD ® MP3 player.
- use the trademark notice in advertising and labelling, for example, BLACKBERRY ®
- display the brand name with special typographical treatment -- font matters!
- extend the brand name to other related product categories
In other words, successful protection of a brand name involves much more than attention to the name itself -- it a brand strategy that affects a whole company.