Skip to main content

When brand names become everyday

Those responsible for brands have an unenviable task. Their aim is to make the brand part of everyday speech without it becoming part of everyday language. If that sounds convoluted, let me explain.

Big brands like Coca Cola or Apple want it to be natural for your to know, recognize and talk about their brand. When you ask for a cola drink, Coca Cola want you to ask for 'a Coke' and expect to get Coca Cola. But there is a lurking danger to becoming well known. It's genericization. (Is that a word? Don't care.)

In the UK, at least, the term 'Coke' for a cola has taken on a degree of the generic. Most people wanting a cola will ask for 'a Coke'. Very few will ask for a Pepsi. However, even if they have a preference (which I do), most will happily accept a Pepsi when asking for 'a Coke.' But they wouldn't expect to be given a Panda Cola. 'A coke' has become generic for a big name (probably US owned) cola, but doesn't cover the whole spectrum.

To see the generic brand in all it's glory, you've only got to look at Hoover's products. In the UK, 'hoover' is pretty well the standard word for a vacuum cleaner (with 'to hoover' as a verb). It has lost its association with the brand name. I don't know how Hoover feels about this. I do know that Dyson got pretty irritated when I kept referring to their products as hoovers when I went round their factory for a radio programme. I think if I owned Hoover, I wouldn't be too upset - at least it keeps the brand in mind. This seems to be the attitude of Coca Cola.

However one company that gets a bee in its bonnet about misuse of its name is Rolls Royce. Many years ago I wrote a review for PC Week magazine about a program called WinFax Pro. This was, at the time, the best computer fax program around, and back then (we're talking 1994), when a lot of people still didn't have email, computer-based fax was really important for business. I refered to WinFax as 'the Rolls Royce of fax software' a usage so common that it's pretty well a cliché. So far, so good. But WinFax used the quote from the review in their advertising, and Rolls Royce came down on them like the equally clichéd ton of bricks. They seem to have accepted the term's use in reviews, but don't like other companies making commercial use of their name, even if the implication is very positive for RR, as it smacks of the dreaded g word.

They talk about writers being brands these days. I wonder who will be come generic first. 'What a load of Dan Brown,' they might say. Or 'I've had a Stephen King of a day.' Or 'I prefer restaurants with plain English menus, this is so Martin Amis.' Actually, I rather like this idea. You never know. It might catch on.


Popular posts from this blog

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Mirror, mirror

A little while ago I had the pleasure of giving a talk at the Royal Institution in London - arguably the greatest location for science communication in the UK. At one point in the talk, I put this photograph on the screen, which for some reason caused some amusement in the audience. But the photo was illustrating a serious point: the odd nature of mirror reflections. I remember back at school being puzzled by a challenge from one of our teachers - why does a mirror swap left and right, but not top and bottom? Clearly there's nothing special about the mirror itself in that direction - if there were, rotating the mirror would change the image. The most immediately obvious 'special' thing about the horizontal direction is that the observer has two eyes oriented in that direction - but it's not as if things change if you close one eye. In reality, the distinction is much more interesting - we fool ourselves into thinking that the image behind the mirror is what's on ou