Will the iPad follow the path of zippers, escalators, and heroin?
Despite other companies' efforts to create a household brand name, Apple has won with the iPad. The name is used not only to describe Apple's popular products, but also tablets in general.
Apple is on the verge of doing what few others have: change the English language.
When you have a boo-boo, you reach for a Band-Aid not a bandage. When you need to blow your nose, you ask for Kleenex not tissue. If you decide to look up something online, you Google instead of search for it. And if you want to buy a tablet computer, there's a good chance there's only one name you'll remember.
"For the vast majority, the idea of a tablet is really captured by the idea of an iPad,'" says Josh Davis, a manager at Abt Electronics in Chicago. "They gave birth to the whole category and brought it to life."
Companies trip over themselves to make their brands household names. But only a few brands become so engrained in the lexicon that they're synonymous with the products themselves. This so-called "genericization" can be both good and bad for companies like Apple, which must balance their desire for brand recognition with their disdain for brand deterioration.
It's one of the biggest contradictions in business. Companies spend millions to create a brand. Then, they spend millions more on marketing that can have the unintended consequence of making those names so popular that they become shorthand for similar products. It's like if people start calling station wagons Bentleys. It can diminish a brand's reputation.
"There's tension between legal departments concerned about 'genericide' and marketing departments concerned about sales," says Michael Atkins, a Seattle trademark attorney. "Marketing people want the brand name as widespread as possible and trademark lawyers worry ... the brand will lose all trademark significance."
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