Interesting post with comments at The Seattle Trademark Lawyer regarding Zappos running a campaign titled “So I ZAPPOS At Work.” Michael is correct as the conventional wisdom (as embodied in this INTA brochure) that a trademark should be used as an adjective, not as a verb or a noun.
Right: I XEROX photocopied the PLAY-DOH modeling compound.
However, come on. If this campaign turns ZAPPOS into the generic term for buying shoes online, then the marketing director will get a promotion. Conventional wisdom has to be applied to the circumstances. TIVO, used as an example in the post of good hygiene, is in a very different situation. As opposed to the fragmented mature market of online retail, Tivo, like Xerox (and RollerBlade) is a technological pioneer. Most people were exposed to DVR technology through the Tivo name, and there was no serious competition for several years (Long term exposure as the sole or primary brand, without a suitable generic term may well be a precondition for genericide – Otis Elevator’s ESCALATOR brand Moving Staircase had the field to itself for decades).
An aggravating factor for Tivo is that it appears to consumers as a branded component in third party products (we have a DirecTV set-top box with TIVO ‘inside’) reinforcing the tendency to confabulate the brand for the functionality. So Tivo’s fears of becoming synonymous with DVR technology is grounded in reality.
Having said that, I still don’t think consumer grammar is the primary cause of genericide – I think genericide is caused by unchecked competitor infringement. A gentle reminder is ok, but Tivo shouldn’t harrass its customers (and industry pundits) because of grammar. What it has to do (and this is not an exclusive insight) is come down like a ton of bricks on each and every third party that uses Tivo to describe their product – because that is trademark infringement.
And as for ZAPPOS? With a million websites selling shoes, I think that they would happily accept Tivo’s burden.