Did you know that aspirin was once a brand name? So was heroin, the escalator, thermos, yo-yo, and the zipper. All were new products at one time or another, and all of them became so engrained in American culture and our collective lexicon that they were deemed too generic to be referred to as brands anymore.
Branding experts are saying Apple may be in the same boat with the iPad. The product has come to represent the epitome of the tablet PC. So much so, that people may refer to any similar product as an iPad from here on out.
Brands fight for this kind of recognition all the time, and it comes with both good and bad consequences. Brand recognition is the obvious plus. Most brands would kill to become a household name like Apple, or the iPad. But the drawback is brand deterioration. With the name iPad being used for every tablet computer, customers can develop negative connotations about it, simply by the name being associated with a less quality product.
It’s a Catch-22 (Ironically, most people use that term without thinking of the book by Joseph Heller). Brands want to be a household name, but they don’t want to become so popular that the name loses all association to the company. How often do you ask someone for a Band-Aid and immediately think of Johnson & Johnson? Or ask someone for a Kleenex and think of Kimberly-Clark? Both of these names are trademarked, but rarely do they carry any significance for the company they represent when spoken about in daily life.
And there is really no way of stopping it. Once a term catches on, you cannot control its growth. You can’t make people stop using iPad to describe other tablets.
The biggest problem for these companies, Apple included, is if the name becomes so commonly used that they legally lose the trademark. At that point, any company can use the name as they please, on packaging, advertising, anything.
Bayer lost the name for aspirin in the 20’s. B.F. Goodrich sued, and lost, to protect its trademark “zipper” around the same time. Otis Elevator Co. lost “escalator in 1950. Thermos LLC lost “thermos” in 1963. Imagine that, losing the branding of your company in the process.
Some companies love the attention this kind of generic name use brings about. Experts say Google has greatly benefitted from people saying they are going to “Google something” when referring to conducting a web search. And it is uncommon for someone to say they are going to Google something, and then get on Yahoo or Bing.
For good or bad, it seems that Apple is going to have to deal with this kind of recognition. So far they have done so without losing their brand. iPod is commonly used when referring to an MP3 player of another origin, and most people readily associate iPod with Apple. The company has yet to encounter legal troubles over the iPad name (in America anyway) and the case in China does not involve the generic use of the word. So far they have continued to dominate the tablet market, accounting for 73% of the estimated 64 billion sold worldwide, and with new and more popular versions coming out each year, it doesn’t like like that’s going to change.