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Reflections: Brand name takeover
Brand name takeover
By William L. Bulla
Weekly Contributing Writer
Escalator used to be a brand name. As did these others:
Frisbee, Band-aid, Kleenex, Baggies, Brillo Pads, Chap Stick, Plexiglas, Rollerblade, Magic Marker, TV Dinners, Styrofoam, Sheetrock, Walkman, Wiffle Ball, Vaseline, Zipper, Yo-yo, Cellophane, Thermos, Escalator, Corn Flakes, Linoleum, Pogo Stick and Trampoline to mention a few. Nowadays we see them spelled escalator, Frisbee, band-aid, and Kleenex etc. Get the idea? They are brand names that are being taken over as a generic name for similar products.
A brand name takeover occurs whenever a trademark or brand name has become the colloquial or generic description for a specific type of product, rather than just the specific product created by the original trademark holder. This typically happens when the product in question has become so dominant in the market that the brand is the first thing people think about when they think of the type of product the brand represents.
For example, "cellophane" was originally a trademark owned by the Dupont Corporation; its widespread use as a generic name for any sort of plastic food wrap, regardless of the actual brand, caused Dupont to lose the trademark, so now anyone can call his plastic wrap "cellophane".
Over the years, Otis dominated the escalator business, but lost the product's trademark. The word escalator lost its proprietary status and its capital "e" in 1950, when the U.S. Patent Office ruled that the word "escalator" had become just a common descriptive term for moving stairways."
Crock-Pot is a trademark that is often used generically in the USA for a slow cooker. Besides being used as a generic term for hook and loop fasteners, the word "Velcro" has also become a verb, as in "velcroed", which means to be attached by Velcro. It has been used as such since approximately 1972.
Frosted Flakes is a breakfast cereal first introduced by the Kellogg Company. It consists of corn flakes "frosted" or coated with sugar. The cereal was first introduced in 1953, as Sugar Frosted Flakes. The word "Sugar" was dropped from the product in the 1980's, during a time when many cereals dropped "sugar" from their titles. "Frosted Flakes", by itself, is purely a description of the product. As a result, that term cannot be trademarked and can be used by any company making a similar product. The same holds true for Corn Flakes.
Dumpster is an American brand of trash receptacle, and a type of mobile garbage bin. The word Dumpster, first used commercially in 1936, came from the Dempster-Dumpster system of mechanically loading the standardized container onto garbage trucks. Today, dumpster is used generically for large trash receptacles.
Astroturf is a registered trademark for a brand of artificial turf. It is often used as a generic description for any kind of artificial turf.
And we've started referring to all clear adhesive tape as Scotch Tape, and all in-line roller skates seem to be called Rollerblade.
Baggies, twist-tie-sealed plastic bags that keep food fresh, were the first brand of food storage bags. Today people call most all food bags by that name; though the leader in sales is Ziploc followed by competitors Glad and Hefty.
And so it is with others brand names: Tissues in a box have become "Kleenex", any felt-tipped pen has become a "Magic Marker", lip-balm for chapped lips is being called "Chap Stick", and small bandages on strips of adhesive tape are being called "Band-Aids."
And so it goes! As new items become popular with the public, similar products will appear. The success of the first one in the market could later cause loss of sales to competitors because, in the mind of the consumer, the newer product solves the same problem. And, in time, all of these products are being generically called the name of the original product.
Mr. Bulla is a resident of Washington County, Maryland.
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