Case Study: A New Name for a National Nonprofit

Names belong to a brand’s stakeholders. This couldn’t be more true for a national nonprofit program, whose success depends on the passion and talents of its volunteers. As an emblem of their mission, the program name has to have both literal and emotional significance.

Share Our Strength is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to end childhood hunger in America. They have several national programs that raise both awareness and funding to ensure every child gets the nutrition he or she needs to live an active, healthy life. One of their programs, Operation Frontline, brings together culinary and nutrition experts to lead low-income families through hands-on cooking and food shopping classes.

Originally derived from the idea of putting culinary experts “on the front line” in the campaign against hunger, the name Operation Frontline had outgrown its relevance and was perceived to lack the passion of the program’s volunteers. The name also prevented stakeholders from creating strong associations with the program.

Their new name Cooking Matters introduces the importance of making healthy meals at home and references the skills that go into food shopping and preparation. The name also retains its appeal to chefs by celebrating the importance of their contribution. Perhaps most importantly, the name serves as a rallying call for corporate sponsors who are critical to the program’s livelihood. Sam Kass, White House Assistant Chef and Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives, said of the new name: “I love it. I mean, I’ll just be honest… teaching people how to cook is one of our most powerful strategies to end hunger.”

Cooking Matters website


Genericized Trademarks in Haitian Creole

Haitian Creole, one of Haiti’s two official languages (the other is French), is the most widely spoken creole in the world today. Commonly known as Creole or Kreyòl, it is French-based with borrowed elements from African languages, as well as Spanish and English. It is considered part of the Romance family of languages.

What is a creole? It’s a language that evolves from a mixture of languages. Sometimes creoles come from pidgins, simplified languages used between two groups of people who don’t speak a common language. Pidgins, unlike creoles, are not native to the people speaking them—they’re a second language for both parties. And because they can be made up on the fly, pidgins don’t follow standard usage patterns. (Spanglish is sometimes described as a pidgin.)

Here’s what makes creoles tricky: A single creole, or the pidgin from which it originated, could have been influenced by other creoles. That can make documenting a creole’s sources difficult. One thing we do know about contemporary Haitian Creole is that is includes a number of genericized trademarks, or brand names that have become common nouns. In the same way that American English uses “band-aid” for all adhesive bandages, Haitian Creole contains the following terms:

chiklèt (from Chiclets): “gum”
dèlko (from Delco): “generator”
djip (from Jeep): “SUV”
frijidè (from Frigidaire): “refrigerator”
iglou (from Igloo) or tèmòs (from Thermos): “cooler”
jilèt (from Gillette): “razor”
kitèks (from Cutex): “nail polish”
kodak (from Kodak): “camera”
kòlgat (from Colgate): “toothpaste”
panpèz (from Pampers): “diaper”

Dedicated to the people of Haiti.

Originally published February 2010.

When a Brand Name Becomes Generic

Does anyone have a band-aid? Where’s the nearest laundromat? Colloquial speech is a powerful force, especially when it comes to brand names. In the cases of “band-aid” and “laundromat,” registered trademarks are being invoked, but most consumers aren’t aware of it. “Band-Aid” is a registered trademark of Johnson & Johnson, and “Laundromat” was a trademarked name created by the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company in the 1930s.

So what’s happening here?

If you ask an attorney, she might call these genericized trademarks. If you talk to a linguist, he might explain “metonymy”: when a part is used to refer to the whole. “Band-Aid” (the brand) is just one example of an adhesive bandage. The Band-Aid was invented in 1921 by a Johnson & Johnson employee and gained popularity over subsequent decades, making it a household name. Eventually “Band-Aid” came to mean any adhesive bandage, and the trademarked name was genericized. The same is true of “Laundromat,” which now stands for any coin-operated laundry.

Metonymy has to happen before a trademarked name is genericized. Consumers take a top-of-mind example of a product and use it to refer to all similar products in the category. And metonymy is not limited to trademarked names. Consider the use of the term “nazi,” a generic form of “Nazi,” a member of the German fascist party under Adolf Hitler. Webster’s dictionary provides this definition for “nazi”: “one who is likened to a German Nazi: a harshly domineering, dictatorial, or intolerant person.” This process of likening is metonymy at work.

It’s human nature to make things simple. We use brand names as generic nouns because it’s easier that way.

So what can you do to prevent your brand name from becoming generic? Unfortunately, it’s not just a matter of making up a word. “Zipper,” a name invented by the B. F. Goodrich Company for rubber overshoes, became associated with the shoes’ closures, and the trademark acquired generic status.

Here’s what you can do to keep genericide from happening to your brand name:

Use a generic descriptor.
By pairing your trademarked name with a descriptive phrase, you can prevent it from becoming a generic noun. Consider “Jell-O® brand gelatin,” where “brand gelatin” clearly differentiates name and generic term. By using this entire phrase consistently, Kraft Foods is able to prevent “Jell-O” from becoming genericized, at least in the legal sense.

Create usage standards.
Establish guidelines for how your brand name is used, including where and how often its trademark designation (™ or ®) appears. This elevates its status in the minds of internal and external audiences and establishes a legal precedent of ownership. And never, ever use your trademarked name as a generic noun or verb. Even making it plural or possessive presents a risk.

Extend the meaning.
This might seem counterintuitive, but the more different types of products a brand name represents, the less likely it is to become a generic term. Band-Aid did this by expanding its product family to include foot care products and antiseptic washes. Now the brand name Band-Aid represents more than just adhesive bandages. It is a brand standard within a category.

Reinforce the general term.
When the brand name Xerox was becoming a generic noun (“make a xerox”) and verb (“please xerox this document”), the Xerox Corporation launched an ongoing media campaign to reclaim their name and reinforce the general term “photocopy.” (In spite of their best efforts, “xerox” has entered the Oxford English Dictionary as a verb.)

More recently, Google has begun discouraging publications from using the generic expression “google” to refer to any Web-based search. And Tylenol, a brand owned by McNeil Consumer Healthcare, has embarked on an advertising campaign encouraging consumers to seek their product by name, drawing a distinction between it and generic acetaminophen.

Use it or lose it. As a trademark owner, you have to actively protect your trademarked name. That means using it consistently, according to established guidelines, and protecting it against infringement. A trademark gains legal strength the more often it is used correctly in different contexts.

So the next time you leave a post-it reminding yourself to bring a thermos and your hacky sack on your camping trip, you’re really leaving a sticky note about a vacuum flask and a footbag. And you’ll understand the brand implications.

Originally published July 2009.

Read this article on Ads of the World.