September 28, 2005

Google: Noun or Verb?

One of the goals of any business is to have their company or product become a household name. It is invaluable when people start associating a particular brand name with a product or activity. However, a potentially damaging line sometimes is crossed when a brand name transforms into a generic noun, or even worse, a verb.

Jell-O, Q-Tip, Kleenex, Scotch Tape, Ziploc, and Jeep, amongst others, all know about being victims of their own success. When was the last time someone said, “Please pass the facial tissues?” When the generic usage supersedes the branded experience, the company can easily become lost in the competitive shuffle. Xerox and Hoover have fought battles over their brands becoming generic terms for activities. Likewise, in the condiments aisle, there are quite a few bottles of “catsup” but there is only one Heinz Ketchup. Now Google is facing the same danger of becoming a generic term for Internet searching. Who among us hasn’t used the phrase, “I’ll google that and see what I can find,” even though we might be using MSN search? “Googling” has become a verb in Internet’s lexicon. While catsup is sitting on the shelf next to Ketchup, and therefore benefits from its proximity, Google’s searches are not available at MSN, so it doesn’t benefit from someone “googling” their new professor at MSN.

So what can be done? Sanctioning everyone that misuses a brand name as a verb is an impossible task, so perhaps brand reinforcement is the only logical course. Xerox once launched an ad campaign reminding people that only Xerox copiers can “Xerox” something; all other copiers only copy; yet the name of Xerox is still a household word and firmly entrenched in people’s minds. This sort of campaign may be advisable for Google, provided it can make that campaign positive, even funny.

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