Xerox this for me, please?
This post is my response to Jenny Matlock’s Alphabe-Thursday challenge for the letter “X”.
Some of you are old enough to remember when Xerox was so dominant in the office machine market that their brand name was often used as a verb when someone wanted to have photocopy made. Xerox still makes copiers and other office equipment, but these days they share the market with a number of strong competitors and very few people still use the term “xerox” when they want a “copy.”
I’ve always been fascinated by companies who have such good products and/or strong market presence that their trademarked brand names become the default term for the product or service. Consider the following examples:
- Photoshop, as in “I photoshopped it in” (or out or whatever), referring to photo editing and manipulation regardless of the product used.
- Google – how many times have you said something like “I’ll just google it” when you are doing an internet search?
- Kleenex, Scotch Tape, and Saran Wrap – these words are often used to refer to similar products, e.g., facial tissue, transparent tape, and plastic cling wrap respectively.
In my admittedly limited (Google) research on this topic, I was surprised to learn that companies don’t want their brand names to become so commonly used that they are considered genericized. Not only is it possible that their brand name might be associated with inferior products but, more importantly, they might also lose the right to trademark their brand names when those names are used to refer to a generic set of products rather than only the trademark owner’s specific product. In fact, corporations like Xerox and Google have marketing and legal staffs devoted to promoting and protecting their products and brand names from becoming genericized. In fact, one reason most of us don’t use “xerox” generically any more is that Xerox has spent millions of dollars on public relations campaigns advising the use of “photocopy” instead of “xerox” and has thus protected their brand name from generification.