Brand Names Have Power

Brand Names Have Power
Earlier this year, Heinz asked people to ‘draw ketchup’, by giving them pieces of paper and a tin of coloured pencils. Most people, they claim, drew Heinz bottles. I’m surprised that nobody drew bloody red puddles, but to be fair, had I been told to draw ketchup, I’d likely have drawn a Heinz bottle too. Now that’s brand power — a true branding flex. Heinz has now leveraged all the drawings (which I hope they paid for) into custom bottle designs and a marketing campaign.

Another form of a brand flex, if with some legal issues, is when your brand name or trademarked name becomes so closely associated with the product or service that people use it interchangeably with the product or service. A brand that might instantly come to mind on something like this is Xerox, which makes photocopy machines. Or Google — often when people mention wanting to search up something online they’d say they Google it.

Brand Names that are now Generic

While this is great brand name power, it also risks the brand name becoming a generic brand term, therefore losing trademark protection:
“When something becomes so pervasive in everyday society as a result of its own fame, there’s an argument that it no longer represents the brand, it almost represents the action. So as a result of that, in trademark law, you cannot trademark things that are descriptive or generic in nature.”
Other than aspirin, some brand names that have become or are close to becoming a generic brand term include:
  • Onesies: Onesies is still a registered trademark, but have become widely used in referral to one-piece jumpsuits.
  • Bubble Wrap: While technically still a registered trademark of Sealed Air, it’s now effectively a generic trademark.
  • Crock-Pot: While people often refer to slow-cookers as crock pots, Crock-Pot is still registered, and a few years ago had to respond to an unexpected PR nightmare. Basically, a fan-favourite character from the show This is Us died after a crock pot accident set the draperies on fire. Crock-Pot had to create a twitter account to deal with freaked out fans throwing away their Crock-Pots, and even asked NBC for help to correct the misunderstanding.
  • Dumpster: Trademarked by the Dempster Brothers and patented by them in 1995, the trademark has since been expired or cancelled.
  • Jacuzzi: Still trademarked, but often used as a generic name for a hot tub.

Avoiding Genericism - A Xerox Story


Bayer Co. v. United Drug Co. was a seminal case in which Bayer lost its trademark for Aspirin to what experts now refer to as “genericide.” That 1921 case set the table for the modern standard that courts currently follow: If a brand name is understood by the public to refer broadly to a category of goods and services rather than a brand’s specific good or service, a company may be at risk of losing its trademark. Escalator, cellophane, and laundromat have all lost their trademark status to genericide.

Xerox Ad

Xerox’s IP counsel and marketing team works hard to ensure Xerox’s survivability as a registered trademark, avoiding what happened to Zipper and Aspirin. They do this by raising awareness that ‘Xerox’ is a registered trademark, educating people who use the trademark wrongly. They work with dictionaries, run ads, and also do work with Wikipedia and so on. So far, it seems to be working. Xerox still has its trademark. Other brands, like Velcro, have also run ads hoping to avoid this fate.

A Good In-Between

A great brand name that’s easy to remember and recognisable in the marketplace is ideal: it can help draw more people to your brand. If you’re starting a new business, coming up with a good brand name is one of the most important things you can do brand-wise, if only because of the effort it’d take to change it later if you regret it.

At Starship, we’ve had a years-long track record in creating new and memorable brands for our clients. One recent work in progress is for us is Fig Out, a fig jam, conserve, and product brand that’s set to launch in the marketplace. Designed to stand out visually and verbally, Fig Out will be a notable addition to supermarket shelves in the near future. If you already have a brand name, particularly one that might soon become a victim of its own success like aspirin, you’d need to put in the work — like Xerox. Here at Starship, we’re experienced at running engaging, educational brand campaigns that’ll maintain and improve your brand’s position in the marketplace. Need more information? Give us a call.
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