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21/07/2009 by

To Verb Or Not To Verb?

Some brands just seem to have it all; great product(s) and/or service(s), satisfied customers and a unrelenting rise of revenue, and the brand has become a verb. Best example nowadays is “Googling” your way through the internet, or “Let me TiVo that” and somewhat little recent “Xeroxing documents.”


While in the not so distant past companies did all they could to prevent the brand turning into a verb (Google, TiVo, Xerox), today is different. Steve Ballmer hopes with Bing the actual of notion of people “bing” a restaurant to find its address or “bing” a job applicant for telling events in the past. If you would hear (and understand) Why don’t you Bing it? Steve is a happy man.

Cartoon: Charles Barsotti

Brands are trademarked and a lot of effort and money go into the creation and protection of that brand to prevent economic damages to intellectual property. By controlling the use of their brand name, businesses hope to put off the day when the name grows so popular that it defines all similar products on the market. When that happens, a brand has been lost to “genericide,” lawyers say. That means that the term is so prevalent, or generic, that it no longer sticks to a single company.

But this is actually what Bing is trying to achieve. Better to get the market share when you can and worry later, when the brand becomes part of the popular vernacular and less distinctive in the process.

On the other hand, Biz Stone, one of Twitter’s co-founders, announced the trademarking of “Tweet”, the generally accepted verb for sending a message with Twitter. And controlling who uses the words Twitter or Tweet would be a way of gaining some form of exclusivity. However, Twitter will not actively be ‘going after’ the wonderful applications and services that use the word in their name when associated with Twitter.”

Brand protection through trademarks will give you exclusivity and prevention of genericide. If “google” becomes synonymous with conducting an Internet search, then Microsoft could legally and confusingly advertise by saying: “Use Bing for all of your most complicated googling!”

Turning a brand into a verb will (actively pursuing this or letting it happen) could create an increase and long term top of mind awareness.


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Marc Metekohy
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