Why some trademarked brand names become generic terms?

You’ve found the perfect name for your product. It sounds great and matches with all your branding objectives. Next step? Of course, you register it as a trademark. Because, it’s useless to have a good name if it doesn’t belong to you and any competitor can “steal it” from you. After a few years, your product name becomes really famous. So famous that…it was converted by the consumers in a generic term. What means that?

Yes, your name belongs to you. Your competitors are not allowed to use it. But they have similar products as your own product. And guess what? The customers use your product name in order to identify any other product from the whole market with the same utility and specifications. Is it a good or a bad situation for your business? And the main question remains: Why did that happen?

In order to explain with more details this problem, we have here some famous examples of this case:

  1. Band-Aid

The real generic name is Adhesive bandage. The trademarked registered name is Band-Aid and the owner is Johnson & Johnson.

  1. Bubble wrap

We are sure that at least once in your lifetime you have used “Bubble wrap” in order to calm down. But the question is: Have you played with Bubble wrap, the trademark registered by Sealed Air Corporation or with inflated cushioning which is the real generic term?

  1. Dumpster

When your wife or your husband asks you nicely to throw the trash away, she/he uses the word Dumpter (a trademark registered by Dempster Brothers) or the four words expression: front loader waster container?

  1. Frisbee

Have you ever played with a Frisbee? Was it really a Frisbee, meaning the product name owned by Wham-O or was it just a flying disc?

  1. Jacuzzi

Dreaming about spending some time in a Jacuzzi? Then be sure you will choose a Jacuzzi owned by the company Jacuzzi. Any other option is just a hot tub.

       6. Jeep

Do you wish to own a car that can climb easily over the forest and mountains? Do you call it Jeep? Make sure that it’s the car manufactured by Chrysler, which is the real owner of this name. The alternatives are just compact sport utility vehicles.

  1. Jet Ski

Have you ever enjoyed a ride with a Jet Ski when you were at the seaside? Maybe you are not so sure about it…Because the real Jet Ski is owned only by Kawasaki. The other models are just stand-up personal watercrafts.

  1. Memory Stick

Have you ever asked somebody to borrow you a Memory Stick? If you received one, was it from Sony? If the answer is no, that means it was a flash memory storage device.

  1. Thermos

It’s nice to have some hot coffee in a Thermos when you are enjoying a mountain climb, no? Next time, try to say “Vacuum flask” if your product is not manufactured by Thermos GmbH

  1. Super Glue

Have you ever tried to stick something with Super Glue? Can you swear that on the tube was written Super Glue? Because only Super Glue Corporation owns this trademark. The generic term for this solution is Cyanoacrylate adhesive. A little complicated, no?

Are you a little surprised? And this list contains just a few examples. The world is full of brand names where were invested a lot of money in trademark registration and of course, in advertising that have become generic terms.

So…let’s turn back at the main question: Why some trademark brand names become generic terms?

There are three main reasons for this to happen:

  • The product is a real innovation on the market

Many of the presented products were a true innovation at the launch moment. The customers were impressed and basically they have started to identify the first brand with the whole concept of the product.

  • The product was the best branded and advertised on the market

Even if some products were’t the first ones, they were the most visible on the entire market. The consumers were conquered by the power of the brand and they could not see any other brand.

  • The other product names are too long, too complicated, too descriptive

Especially when we are talking about the pharmaceutical sector, many product names are too complicated for the consumers. When a company comes with a short, great and targeted name like: Aspirin, Prozac, Viagra, the customers use to replace the too long or too complicated names with the best brand name.

Is it a good or a bad thing to have a brand name that has become a generic term?

We think that it’s good and bad in the same time. Good because that means that your brand name is powerful, easy to memorize and defines the product very well. From the naming point of view…you are a winner. Why bad? Because in the same time while your brand contributes at the growth of the entire demand of the market, it also contributes at the growth of your competitors that are delivering the same product. And be sure, that your competitors will use all your advertising and branding investment in their favor, without using also your trademarked name.

If you have some questions regarding this subject, or maybe a naming project you want to start soon, feel free to leave us a message here:


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