Manila, Philippines

Successful Brand Names That Became Generic

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What’s in a company name? A brand name? Everything!

Its sales proposition, its reputation, what it stands for, everything that the brand or the company wants (or does not want) to be remembered by, will be linked to the company or brand name. I will not lecture here on selecting the best company name because we all know how important it is. As important as selecting the best name for a newborn child.

Instead, I’d like to reflect on how certain company and brand names have changed the competitive landscape in their respective fields. How their names have become household terms, whether they like it or not.

Some brands and companies might not like it, but for me, the best measure of a successful company or brand name is when the time comes that the name is included as a word in the dictionary, not as a proper company or brand name, but as a simple generic word which is defined as what the brand or company does (hopefully positive).


Correct me if I am wrong but based from my stock knowledge, Xerox had this dilemma before. They were so successful in the photocopying machines business that their name has become the verb itself (see Trademark portion). For many Filipinos, to Xerox still means to photocopy. Many photocopy stations out there still advertise as “Xerox available here”, not with the intention of saying that they are using Xerox machines, but to connote that photocopying services are available in that area, regardless of photocopier used.
Google means search. Research. When we do not know something and we want to instantly know (or at least have an idea), we no longer say look it up or research on it. We no longer go to the library or dictionary either. We say “i-Google mo” or “Google it.” The search engine again was so successful that it has become a household name when it comes to web searches. I mean there are many search engines out there, the likes of Yahoo! and Bing but I have yet to hear anyone say “Yahoo! it” or “Bing it” when they want to say “search for it”. At least not here in the Philippines.
Locally we have the classic stories on Colgate, Payless, Mongol and Pampers. These household names do not just connote Colgate, Payless, Mongol and Pampers per se. For some areas, especially in the provinces where information may be a bit behind, and advertisements very limited, they may actually mean the generic products at times:
“Pabili nga ng Colgate, yung Close Up”  [i.e. Colgate = toothpaste]
Payless nga po, yung Lucky Me” [i.e Payless = Noodles]
Mongol nga po, yung Jumbo at #2” [i.e. Mongol = any brand of pencil]
“Pampers nga po, yung Huggies” [i.e. Pampers = diapers]
Why is this so? My initial assessment here is that Colgate, Payless, Mongol and Pampers have successfully established themselves as household names that consumers (especially those from rural areas) have grown to associate the brand names to the respective generic products. But, this establishment as a household name can be a double-edged sword. Yes, it might be that the brand name recall is very strong, but it does always mean that strong brand name recall = strong brand recall.
For the examples I wrote above, some brand names have been used to refer to the generic products, but the consumer is actually pertaining to another competitor brand with another brand name. Yes Colgate may have been associated as equal to toothpaste, but it’s the Close Up brand that they want to purchase. Same for Payless and Pampers. If I were the company, I will take sales over brand recall. Of course, the best situation still is for the brand name to be associated with the generic product, and retain market leadership at the same time (like Mongol and Google).
Colgate, Payless and Pampers may have been the market leaders back then, the pioneers for that product segment, but over time, they may have lost portions of this product leadership to new entrants in the likes of Close Up, Lucky Me, and Huggies.
The brand name recall stuck (especially in areas with lagged information dissemination) but not the brand loyalty and leadership. This may have been the case for Xerox. Their name was being used as a household generic name to photocopy, but the photocopier used is no longer Xerox, but another competing brand. Maybe like Kodak, HP, Canon, etc.
Over time, when Google has lost its market leadership (if ever), will we still say “google it” while we use a different search engine?
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  1. I can't believe how much of this I just wasn't aware of. Thank you for bringing more information to this topic for me. I'm truly grateful and really impressed.

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