Verbs have the best life, sometimes


It’s every brand owner’s dream to have his or her brand verbified. That’s the sure sign of popular acceptance and category dominance.

Dyson products are admired and popular. Nevertheless, people still Hoover their carpets. One day we might Dyson our floors. But not yet.

We Google a question.

We Bubble Wrap fragile items.

We Band-Aid a cut.

We Photoshop an image.

We Rollerblade in the park.

We Xerox documents.

We Glad Wrap food.

These are brands used as verbs. The adhesive bandage we apply to a wound mightn’t be made by Johnson & Johnson, but we Band-Aid the wound anyway.

Sometimes, a brand isn’t used as a verb, but is the noun used to describe a category.

We relax in the Jacuzzi. (Even if our hot tub isn’t made by Jacuzzi.)

We put Formica on benchtops. (Even if the laminate isn’t made by the Diller Corporation.)

We take Aspirin for pain relief. (Owned by Bayer.)

We take washing to a Laundromat. (Coined by Westinghouse. Excuse the pun.)

We keep drinks in a Thermos. (Created by Thermos GmbH.)

We write with a Biro (Société Bic).

We drink from a Bubbler (Kohler).

We play on AstroTurf (AstroTurf LLC).

We take an Esky to a picnic (Coleman).

We share data on a Memory Stick (Sony).

We use a Stanley Knife to open boxes (Stanley Works).

We Super Glue our fingers together (Super Glue Corporation).

Every brand hopes to one day be as well-known as these verbs and nouns. They’re so well known that you don’t need to have their form or function explained to you. You know what Velcro does. You know how Rollerblades are used.

You can’t buy that kind of universal acceptance.

Whilst brand owners love it when their brand becomes the verb or noun used to describe the generic category, lawyers hate it.

For them, the danger is that they’ll lose ownership of their brand because it’s used generically.

Years ago, client Pepsico needed campaign ideas. Pepsi’s agency in New York asked for help from a few other offices around the world. One was ours in Sydney.

A few days after getting the call, I flew to New York to present our idea to the team there. As I presented, heads nodded and people smiled. The perfect response.

No soon had I finished presenting, then those gathered there were saying, “This is great”.

One guy was on the phone straight away. “Hey Tom, it’s Dick here. I’ve got something I want you to look at. I’ll bring it up.”

Naïvely, I askd Dick who that was on the phone.

“Tom’s our lawyer.”

The campign never saw the light of day. Why?

I hadn’t used Pepsi as a verb. I hadn’t used it as a generic noun. I’d used it as an adjective. In various commercials I had Kermit The Frog and Silverster Stallone utter the phrase, “That’s the Pepsiest cola I’ve ever tasted.”

And that was a no-no.

These brand lawyers were afraid to do anything that risked their brand becoming generic – even if it was a sign of success.

Even former client Hoover, whose brand is commonly used as a verb, was worried when we presented scripts in which we used Hoover as a verb.

This was their own commercial (I argued). If anyone can encourage people to Hoover their floors, Hoover is it! The lawyers disagreed.

So, it’s every brand owner’s desire to be a household name. But every brand lawyer’s fear that they’ll become one.

But for a sweet, sweet period, your verbified brand has a glorious and envied life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *