Did you know Aspirin was a brand?

May 28, 2014

We didn't.

But actually German pharmaceuticals company Bayer own it, and despite the Treaty of Versailles forcing them to give up its rights to the Aspirin trademark in the victor nations (UK, USA and France) the company still rigorously enforces the TM through the rest of the world.

This is an example of 'Genericide' in action- brands destroying themelves through their own success. For Bayer, the name 'Asprin' has no value whatsoever in these countries any longer.

Do you ever say that you vacuumed the living room? Or threw a flying disk ('Frisbee' is another brand) in the park?

If consumers understand the trademark to be the name of the product itself, as opposed to identifying its exclusive source, that trademark loses its distinctiveness.

Cue rival businesses, circling the exposed brand and swooping to attach its powerful name to their own products. And if they can convince intellectual property judges that they are entitled to use it because it's now an everyday word, that trademark is dead and buried - the victim of "genericide".

Google is so conscious of the problem that it published "rules for proper usage" of all its trademarks, mainly to try to stem the use of "google" as a verb.

So what's the answer? All companies want to build a brand- how can they ensure that the brand doesn't become TOO successful?

Everyone knows that Coke is cola, but do you ever ask for a whiskey and cola? Or (heaven forbid) a whiskey and Pepsi?

Coke dominates the market partially BECAUSE their name has been generisised. Remember the 'always the real thing ads'? This is the modern equivalent- stressing heritage and keeping to the strong red and white branding that's universally recognised as theirs.

Due to the familiarity of the brand and through strong marketing of a consistent, brand-focussed, nature, many people consider Coke as a superior product, despite blind taste-tests that usually lead to rivals coming out on top.

So perhaps consistency is the key?

But then look at Lucozade. Total reinvention saved the Lucozade brand (from something for convalescents to a modern sports drink) and grew it substantially.

So maybe not.

Genericide won't stop us marketeers from continuing to build brands. But we'll always do so with the knowledge that there's a risk, somewhere down the line, that our intricate strategies and immaculately planned launches could actually lead to the complete devaluing of the identity that we've worked so hard to craft.

But never mind, eh? Holidays are coming!


[this article inspired by, and amended from, the original by Simon Tulett on the BBC website]