From brand names to generic names

I thought this article from the BBC about the death of brand names was interesting. While it almost seems good to get a brand name used frequently by people, there is a danger of it becoming disassociated from the brand. Mentioned examples such as Jacuzzi, Escalator and Frisbee definitely seem like generic terms now. I cannot imagine calling bubble wrap anything other than bubble wrap!

However, there are a few ‘generic’ terms in the article that don’t seem so generic to me. I would never say ‘hoover the house’ but always ‘vacuum the house’. For me ‘Hoover’ is still linked to the brand and sounds a lot more American than British.

Hoover was patented in 1927 and the first recorded use of hoover used in another way, as a verb, was the same year. This use was interesting in that it was used in its advertising: a ‘Hoovered’ room. Nowadays companies, such as Google, strive to prevent the use of their name in this way instead of as an advertising tool. Turning a brand name into a verb can cause it to become generic and disoriented from the brand. Google has rules governing its trademark to prevent its use as anything other than an adjective, such as ‘Google search engine’. Twitter has also expressed concern about ‘Tweet’ being used to refer to a comment.

Google was launched in 1998 and the same year Google is recorded as being used as an intransitive verb (a verb without a direct object; such as “I googled, but couldn’t find the address”) and as a transitive verb (a verb with a direct object; for example, “I googled the address”)

While dissuading people from using it as a verb might help prevent its transition to mean ‘I used a search engine’, it might be too late.

Does a word itself make it more likely to become generic or is it the popularity of the brand? Google, googled, googling is easy to say, while Binging or Yahooing seems slightly cumbersome. Is one word more likely to become generic than another?


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