Tuesday May 8, 2012
By LUCILLE DASS
Do you pack food in ‘Tupperware’ and pamper your babies with ‘Pampers’? You may be advertising for companies without knowing it.
THE comment about the Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng having a “trademark Brylcreem look” inspired this article.
It took me back to the time when a bottle of Brylcreem (it came bottled then) was a regular feature on my family’s dressing table. More than that, the particular comment is an excellent reminder of how heavy advertising contributes to “genericisation”.
I don’t know what hairstyling product – hair cream, oil, spray, gel, or pomade – the Chief Minister actually uses to dress his hair. Yet, “Brylcreem” says it all for us. By the way, let me be clear that I’m not into promoting any brands here; I’m merely raising awareness about trademark name-calling.
I actually just had “Maggi” for lunch. By that, of course, you understand that lazy me simply settled for instant noodles. (I was busy writing this article!) But, you don’t know whether I ate the “Cintan”, “Sedap” or “Indo-mie” brand of noodles. After that slurpy lunch at my desk, I reached for some “Wet Wipes” – those refreshingly moist towelettes.
A quick tour of my little kitchen, the site of most brand names, reveals “Glad Wrap”, a term I use to refer to plastic cling film, never mind if I change brands along the way. There are also “Styrofoam” containers – for extruded polystyrene foam boxes which we Penangites (ahem!) no longer use to pack food in – and “Tupperware”, the term for my collection of plastic containers of all kinds.
It is intriguing how some brand names, over others, are more commonly used to refer to products. I found out from the Web that the term “genericide” is used when a trade name becomes a generic name for the item itself. It can also be termed as a form of “metonymy” because we are using a genericised trademark while referring to what the trademark or service represents. For example, using the “White House” for the “US president”.
Even if we are not familiar with the terms above, we must know that as inadvertent “victims” of an aggressive advertising industry, we happily contribute towards this phenomenon of popular brand or trademark name-calling. Come to think of it, while this may cause a particular product to lose its distinctive quality to become more generic, such name calling doesn’t seem to affect sales!
Certainly, you can think of countless products or services that go by their generic descriptions. “Panadol” for one? In my younger days it was “Aspirin”, while “Colgate” remained the permanent name for our household toothpaste even when we switched brand. “Scotch” tape was the term for any clear adhesive tape, clearly overriding other brand names. I also recall my boys excitedly playing with their “Matchbox” cars, their collection of miniature toy cars, whether these were the original die-cast toy cars from Mattel or not.
Talking of children, we had no “Pampers” in those days though we still pampered their little butts – it is now a common term for all baby (and also adult) nappies. “Kotex” held wide coverage for all feminine hygiene towels while “Vaseline” still stands for petroleum jelly.
How about “Thermos” for the trademark vacuum flask? Remember “Shelltox” for mosquito control? “Flit”? Makes a nice whacky sound! Well, perhaps there weren’t that many brands available then. Yet, a particular brand name somehow became a more colloquial or generic term to describe products in a particular range.
“Genericide” reminds me of “suicide”! No I’m not being morbid. Let me try to explain – it’s as if in quiet defiance, products of a particular range convened on the side, and in an act of bravado, decided to sign an unwritten (“suicidal”) pact to seemingly relinquish their distinctive qualities and will themselves to assume a collective identity!
And guess what? They have survived, nay, thrived; even though, as mentioned earlier, they moved along the scale from being distinctive to generic. All this simply means that we have become spoilt for choice! So when you find yourself standing before multiple shelves that boast an aisle-long range of, let’s say, instant noodles, your “Maggi” may not be my choice of “Maggi”!
So, the brand name-calling legacy lives on. In my kitchen, I also have “Teflon” for my non-stick cookware; “Ziplock Bags” refer to all my reusable, re-sealable storage bags; and a “Crock Pot” slow cooking while I’m a-working at my desk. For sure, I also have “Kleenex” – even it’s not distinctively “Kleenex”! In a nearby shelf, I store some brand of bleaching liquid that goes by the name of “Clorox” in my household.
A tour of the whole house will, of course, yield much more. I use “Liquid Paper” since I’m still very much a pen ‘n’ paper person. “Post-its” adorn my refrigerator – usually messages to my son – and I have a folder labelled “Xerox” (no, I don’t possess the branded machine) that contains papers to be photocopied ahead of my next workshop. And I have just completed my “Powerpoint” for the workshop i.e. my electronic presentation.
Household items aside, what comes to mind when you hear “Frankenstein”? Do you think of the monster or the eponymous protagonist? Tell the truth and see if you can shame “Dracula”, the devil himself, and not the titular antagonist of Stoker’s horror novel. What about “Scrooge”? See what I mean?
To conclude here’s what I found in Starfit4Life, Jan 29: “Many people have lent their names to well-known medical conditions,” said the sub-heading of the cover story “Immortal legacy”. It tells of how some diseases came to be named after the doctor or doctors who first described them. This “naming convention” persists despite the fact that, “unlike descriptive names, eponyms really say nothing at all about the disease.” We are all familiar with Alzheimer’s disease, Down syndrome, Lou Gehrig’s disease (Dr Stephen Hawking suffers from this) and Parkinson’s disease, to name a common few.
I wonder if you can hear me popping the inflated cushioning in this piece of “Bubble wrap” I came across – it’s such fun!