Just how famous do you want to be?

Sellotape, Hoover, Frisbee, Coke …
It’s tempting to think or even say “We want to be the Sellotape of our market.” Meaning, we want to dominate people’s thoughts of our product category to such an extent that our brand name becomes the generic name for all products – ours and the competition.
At first glance, it seems hugely attractive – extending front of mind brand awareness to the point where a vacuum cleaner becomes a ‘Hoover’ or lemon juice becomes ‘Jif’. Isn’t that the logical goal of a sustained programme of brand building?
Well, it seems that whilst that might represent the pinnacle, it might be best to stop a little short.
A recent article on the BBC Business website discussed the concept of ‘Genericide’, where brands have become so successful that they have inadvertently destroyed themselves.
In practice their strength is also their weakness – when consumers confuse the trademark (brand name) with the generic product, in legal terms the trademark loses its distinctiveness. If rival brands can convince intellectual property judges that this is the case, they are then allowed to use the trademark as a product descriptor.
If you think that sounds far-fetched, bear in mind that Escalator, Yo-Yo and Thermos were once protected brand names!
More recently, Google and Twitter have raised concerns about the terms ‘Google’ and ‘Tweet’ becoming generic verbs for ‘search’ and ‘publicly posted short comments’ respectively.
I once worked for a major food and drink business which insisted that brand names were always written in bold italics to help protect the intellectual property amd prevent them being seen as ordinary words.
With the continued explosion of the website, e-commerce and social media, it’s harder than ever to monitor and protect trademarks, but it seems that we also need to guard against becoming a victim of our own success!