Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Trademarks vs. Genericide

One aspect of advertising that I found interesting in the seventh chapter of Practices of Looking is the issue of branding. According to Sturken and Cartwright, "branding has become not just a way of selling goods but an inescapable mode of everyday communication in the new commodity culture of the twenty-first century" (292). In other words, the advertising industry playing a huge part in shaping language. The concept of genericide, "the way that trademarks become part of public culture", is keeping advertisers of widely recognized brands on their toes. If a brand name becomes too widely used in the English language, the corporation in question can lose the legal trademark on that name. There are many examples of genericide that have occurred already. Some of these words have become so incorporated into the English language that it is difficult to believe that they were actually trademarked in the first place.

Some examples of brands that have been victims of genericide: aspirin, escalator, yo-yo, zipper, kleenex, thermos, cellophane, popsicle, nylon, Scotch tape, and Q-tip.

The above examples have been declared by the U.S. government as independent phrases because they became too widely used to communicate particular brands. The following words are endangered species, meaning that they are trademarked, but may be on the verge of genericide:

Frisbee : A product of Wham-O Inc. 'Flying disc' is actually the proper term.
Rollerblades: A trademark of Nordica. The proper term? Inline skates.
TiVo: While the term has turned into a verb synonymous with recording television programs, it is actually a trademarked name.
Xerox: This is an example in the book (page 292). Also a brand name used as a verb, the Xerox corporation has, and will continue, to fight against genericide.

It is not uncommon for corporations to produce advertisements to prevent genericide. In this commercial, Johnson & Johnson use repetition to distinguish 'Band-Aid' as a brand, not a noun synonymous with adhesive bandage - every time 'Band-Aid' is mentioned, the word 'brand' isn't far behind.

In another print advertisement, the concept of genericide is used to give Jeep originality.

In this advertisement, the bold text signifies that Jeep is asserting its individuality by distinguishing its product from similar vehicle models.

Overall, genericide is very common. We all do it. It is interesting to try to think of all the formerly trademarked words that we commonly use in our everyday lives...

1 comment:

  1. That's so weird how those words are just common words now.. I didn't realize rollerblades wasn't the generic term!

    It's like how Google is becoming a verb, or synonymous for search, and "Photoshopped" is a verb, or synonymous for having gone through image-editting. Actually, Adobe does not allow for their name to be used a verb (http://www.adobe.com/misc/trade.html)..