The Branding Effect

Posted by in Musings




Pop Quiz — What do Band-Aids, Kleenex, and Frisbee have in common?

If you guessed you need the band-aid to cover up the wound from the stray frisbee, and the kleenex to wipe up the tears, you were close but wrong.  These three words are classic examples of trademarked brand names that have evolved to become the common term for their respective products.  Although we may  ask for a Kleenex, most of us are simply asking for a facial tissue.  In reality, Kleenex is only one of many brands for facial tissues.  Others include Puffs, Seventh Generation, Surpass and Classic.  Despite the amount of variety, Kleenex has fully entrenched itself as the synonym to facial tissue.  That is true brand power.

How the “Branding Effect” Affects Companies

However, my roommates and I began debating whether or not the “Branding Effect” was a good for the company.  One camp argued that this is absolutely what every company wants to achieve.  When it comes to marketing, brand recognition is the name of the game.  And once you name becomes interchangable with the actual product you are selling, you have firmly established your product at the top of the market.  As a result, especially in the beginning, the company will see rapid growth, sales will skyrocket and the company will dominate the market share.

Yet the other school of thought believed this indistinguishability is actually detrimental in the long run.  The marketing strategy of companies is to develop brand loyalty.  When the consumer takes subsequent visits to the store, he will purchase the product again and again, and likely suggest the product to their friends, family and neighbors.  However, if a consumer visits the store to buy “Kleenex,” when in reality they are imagining a need for facial tissue, they have effectively lost brand loyalty.  Now the choice of the consumer becomes much more randomized.

Another negative externality that could result is the false impression that the product is the cheap generic.  It’s quite possible that Kleenex is in fact the luxury brand, however consumers may think incorrectly it’s the cheap brand.  As a result, they lose their ability to establish themselves as the premier product amongst all competitors.

The Market Data

We sought to find quantifiable data to see which theory the market data supported.  I couldn’t find any easily discernable proof of either (ie. market share overtime, annual financial report, etc.), but I was able to find significant literature discussing the problems Kleenex and similar products faced.  As claimed by StealingShare.com, “each of these famous brands has become so synonymous with their category that they have, in turn, become their category.”  Just like the second school of thought suggested, StealingShare demonstrates these products become a victim of their own success.

Although there is some validity in this claim, I feel it doesn’t encompass the full picture.  The reason for “becoming their category” is a result of a hugely success beginnings.  As pioneers of their respective product, whether through marketing or having the best product, they quickly garner a sizable, and usually dominate, portion of the market share.  It is only much later that they begin to see a decline in revenue.  Therefore I theorize that the initial growth is exponential, and the decline slow, but quite substantial.  Studying this effect overtime would be an interesting honors thesis.  Any takers?

Potential Future Products to Experience the “Branding Effect”

On a related tangent, I’m curious to see what current products will eventually experience the same branding effect.  Do you think Google is heading down that path now that their name is synonymous with “searching the internet?”  What about Apple’s iPods?  Do you think in the future all portable MP3 players will be generically referred to as iPods, just like what happened to Walkman and audio tape players?  What about Drugs like Advil, or maybe even Viagra?  I guess time will tell.

Aight, enough food for thought.  Let’s get back to the mindless entertainment.  Compliments of UselessData.org, below is a list of dozens of other examples of trademarks that have become ordinary words.  Enjoy.

“Aspirin, autoharp, band-aids, breathalyzer, cellophane, Coke (in some areas, at least), corn flakes, cube steak, ditto, dry ice, dumpster, escalator, formica, Frisbee, granola, gunk, jeep, kerosene, Kleenex, mace, nylon, ping-pong, popsicle, Q-tip, rollerblade, rolodex, Scotch tape, sheetrock, spandex, styrofoam, tabloid, thermos, trampoline, walkman, yo-yo, xerox, and zipper.”

Can you think of any others?