Brand genericization: Business dream or disaster?

In our modern commodity driven market environments, it can be quite common to have a popular product or service brand far exceeding the influence of its competitors in the market. In such a case, a particular brand name may end up becoming a group name for that particular product/service: for example Aspirin being used to refer to all painkillers, Xerox for copy machines, and so on. In some cases, the brand name even becomes a verb: for example here in Sweden, “att swisha” and “att googla”. How does this “genericization” of brand names impact companies and their products?


On one side, it could be a company’s dream for their product to become so popular in the market that its brand becomes synonymous with the product itself. The brand becomes extensively well known over competitors’ products, and becomes easily identifiable even by people who may not regularly consume it. The consistency in the market brought about by this sort of recognition could lead to more conversions in terms of acquiring a loyal customer base, and a stronger overall market presence.


Sounds great so far, what could go wrong? As it turns out, plenty. The thing about genericization of a brand is that when the target audience starts to associate a particular brand with all the available products of that kind in the market, there are chances for brand deterioration. Take Swiss watch maker Rolex, for example. Let’s say that Rolex becomes so popular in the watch industry that their brand becomes synonymous with watches, to the point that customers only think of Rolex when they see a watch, and start to refer to all watches as “Rolex”. The exclusivity, prestige and brand value of Rolex starts to decline – since any cheaper and lower quality watch is automatically associated with Rolex in the eyes of the customer. In this hypothetical situation, Rolex may be able to establish themselves as the dominant brand, but at the cost of the prestige of their brand name being associated with any and all watches in the market.


Another problem with brand genericization could be potential trademark problems, especially in the case where a brand starts being used as a verb. We can take Swish as an example, with “swisha” generally being accepted in Swedish as an action of sending money via one’s phone. When this “brand-verb” starts to be recognized in the language, it could lead to potential trademark problems, for example if a competitor comes into the market offering the same service, the market may still refer to the action as “swisha”. It could become difficult for Swish then to disassociate its services and trademark from competitors.

Have your say! Do you think brand genericization is a good thing for a business? Or does it cause more problems in the long-term?

About Author

Raj Sehmi

A master's degree holder in information systems who wears many hats, with interests in digital technology, design, quality assurance, marketing communication, electronic music and food.