Brand name, generic name and ‘you can’t get papers xeroxed’

Consider the following statements:

‘Please have these papers xeroxed’
‘Give me good quality thermos’
‘Which brand of sunmica you intend putting on your furniture?’
‘My carpenter has asked me to get good quality fevicol.’
‘This is a new brand of tinopal’
‘Ask the pharmacy for a good quality band aid’
‘Get a bottle of non-burning dettol’
‘One type of vicks is available only at chemist shops’
‘It’s very dark here, you don’t have eveready’

All of the above statements appear perfectly correct. People do get their documents xeroxed, store liquids in thermos to maintain their temperature, carpenters do ask for fevicol to join pieces of wood, there is nothing wrong to ask for good quality band-aid and kid do ask for non-burning dettol and people in mountains always keep eveready when they go out.

Recently a new brand of laminates has begun to be promoted on television called sunmica and the question is how can a brand be sunmica because it is what people use on furniture surfaces. Can one have ‘Watch’ as a brand name for a time keeping device, ‘Egg’ for eggs, ‘Laptop’ for compact computers, ‘Pen’ for a writing instrument and ‘Nailpolish’ for nail enamel? In reality yes, why not? Managers enjoy liberty christen their products any which why they like. But naming a product is not an act in exercise of free will. Rather it is an act which can profoundly affect brand success at the point of sale.

Sunmica brand has come to AICA Group as a result of business transfer agreement between The Bombay Burmah Trading Corpn and Aica Laminates India. There is nothing wrong with the brand name except for the fact that pride which a marketer takes in claiming that its brand has become synonymous with a commodity actually may be a cause of serious concern. When a name ceases to stand for a brand rather begins to represent a commodity category, the entire purpose of branding is lost. The purpose of branding to get customers to ask for a company’s product by name. Core to achieving this involves creation of ‘valued differentiation’.

When a brand name begins to stand for a commodity, it is unlikely to be demanded by consumers. It becomes descriptor of a category. Its identity collapses into commodity identity. This phenomenon is common with pioneer brands which create categories. Imagine how tough it must have been for Colgate to establish toothpaste category when nothing existed like a paste for oral hygiene. Once established, the brand enjoys the category creator or ‘first mover perceptual advantage’. But the hidden danger for all pioneer brands comes in the form of dissolution of brand identity with the commodity identity. So who loses when people go on to buy Century, Duro or Greenlam sunmica?

The answer is Sunmica. The challenge for category creating brands is to somehow always maintain their brand identity different from commodity identity. One such easy approach is to keep brand name separate from the commodity in their identity signaling system. For instance ‘Colgate’ kept separate from ‘toothpaste’ in communication through intelligent orchestration of brand elements. In our case of ‘Sunmica’, ‘Sun’ should be separated from ‘mica’ which represents the commodity. In consumers’ minds ‘Sun’ should stand for a distinct brand name in the mica product category.

You can’t get papers xeroxed, you get them photocopied.

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4 thoughts on “Brand name, generic name and ‘you can’t get papers xeroxed’

  1. It just reminded me of one of the Brand Management lectures. I truly agree that valued differentiation can help brands stay both relevant and preferred to the consumer set. Brilliant post Sir !

  2. Even a brand like Apple is suffering from iPod and iPad being used as generic names for MP3 players and tablets !! It might a matter of temporary high for marketers to be able to place their products as product category in customer mind, but the glory is short lived and soon customer starts to buy “Sony iPads” and “Samsung iPods”.

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