In a recent episode of the popular History Channel show, American Restoration, expert restorer of classic objects and star of the show Rick Dale, is challenged to breath new life into a rusty, old Pepsi vending machine, oddly colored red During the course of the story ( Rick ends up repainting the machine “Pepsi” blue) , the show delves a bit deeper into Pepsi and the evolution of its brand. Pepsi was first introduced in1893 as “Brad’s Drink” in North Carolina, by pharmacist, Caleb Bradham. It was later labeled Pepsi Cola, named after the digestive enzyme pepsin and kola nuts used in the recipe.
I wondered if “Brads Drink” could have created the same sort of brand image and power in the marketplace that the name “Pepsi” enjoys today. After all, “Brads Drink” sounds terribly boring, and hardy evokes an energetic, refreshing, or youthful feeling ( apologies to all the Brad’s out there :-)). And as we know, the Pepsi brand today, defines more than just one drink or one product. It defines an entire category of drinks – the hallmark of a truly powerful brand.
My curiosity to learn about other brands that similarly define entire product categories led me to this very interesting post that captures some of the popular ones: Kleenex, Popsicle, Coke, Tupperware, Xerox, and Ziploc.
These enormously successful brands have one thing in common – they are used often socially, either literally, or with some modifications as one word VERBS. Historically, businesses shied away from brands used as verbs ; they feared that this association with reduce exclusivity and blur differentiation of their own products and services – for example, Xerox preferred that customers used the words “photocopy”, rather than the word “xerox”, as they felt like it diluted their brand and didn’t communicate the full range of its products like printers and other devices to customers.
However, the age of social media has turned this thinking on its head. Marketers today WANT their brand names to not only define entire product categories but to also become VERBS so they can be used easily and abundantly in everyday conversations. We now “Skype” each other to connect on video cals, we “google” something to search; we “tweet” on twitter, we “grab a Starbucks” instead of a coffee, we often refer to “Ipads” to mean “tablets”. Popular two word brands like “Saran Wrap” indicate plastic packaging, and “Band-Aid” used for treating “boo-boo’s” of different kinds are conveniently reused as one-word terms.
Personally, I’m doubtful if “Brads Drink” would have survived in todays market, but Craigslist thrives, so its hard to tell. For marketers, branding and naming new products and categories in todays hyperconnected, always on, social world is whole new ball game. In a world where “gangnam-style” can seemingly envelop our consciousness and become a cultural icon almost overnight, is there a magic recipe for success?? What do you think?