More than just brands


top_brandsWhat do a “Kleenex”, a “Post-it” and a “Chap Stick” have in common? At first sight, these three items don´t seem to have many similarities. But looking closer you notice that quotation marks have been applied. Indeed, these three labels are not the accurate denominations but the brand names of the mapped items that have over the years become the generally accepted terms. In other words, a trade mark becomes “genericised” when used by the general public to refer to the product advertised.

Not convinced yet? Well, if you refer to cotton swabs as “Q-tips” or to a vacuum cleaner as a “hoover”, then you would find yourself -together with the vast majority of English native speakers- in the area of generic trademarks. What is more interesting in this study field is that not much research has yet been conducted possibly because of the very dynamic and unintentional aspect of the process of generalising trademarks.

Of course every coin has two sides and there are both advantages as well as disadvantages attached to generic trademarks. As most generic trademarks are at the same time the most successful and popular ones in the market (see below), lower status brands can profit from the favorable generic trademark. On the other side this represents a drawback for the generic trademark itself as it loses its distinctiveness when generalised.

Generic trademarks affect us all as every language contains them. In Portugal for instance people often refer to a razor as a “Gilette” whereas in Spain it is common to call a chocolate drink as “Cola Cao”. In the Netherlands it is not unusual to call boots with sheep-wool lining as “uggs” although the boots might not be produced by the trade mark “Ugg”. In France people often call a pen as a “BIC” whereas “Uhu” in German is a brand name for glue and is used to refer to any type of glue regardless of the underlying brand. The list is endless but nevertheless we want to provide you with the most common generic trademarks in English:

  • “Bubble Wrap” instead of Inflated Cushioning
  • “Frisbee” instead of Flying Disc
  • “Hula hoop” instead of Toy Hoop
  • “Jet Ski” instead of Stand-Up Personal Watercraft
  • “Jacuzzi” instead of Whirlpool Bath
  • “Ping Pong” instead of Table Tennis
  • “Pampers” instead of diapers
  • “Lava lamp” instead of liquid motion lamp

Do you have any example from your own language to share with us?

Article written by Sandra Nunes Teixeira, study visitor at TermCoord and Master student in the “Multi-learn programme” at the University of Luxembourg