What The Heck Is An Eponym, And What Does It Mean For Your Brand?


Today I've decided to share with you a new word that recently made a special appearance in my daily life: eponym. It is pronounced (EP-uh-nim) and I have to be frank, but I was somewhat at a loss when I saw it.

I mean, I write, communicate and persuade using words for a living? but this one had obviously been hiding somewhere far away because although I could pronounce it, I could not recall its meaning.

--- In A Word

One way that we use the word "eponym" (EP-uh-nim) is in reference to a specific brand name that has come to mean a generic product. Examples:

Jacuzzi = whirlpool bath
Band-Aid = plastic bandage
Chapstick = lip balm
Jell-O = gelatine dessert
Kleenex = facial tissue
Q-Tips = cotton swabs
Scotch Tape = cellophane tape
Styrofoam = plastic foam
Teflon = non-stick coating
Vaseline = petroleum jelly
Walkman = portable cassette player
Xerox = photocopier/photocopy

Sounds fantastic doesn't it. I mean, your own name or your product name being so popular that it has been absorbed in to the general vocabulary. Now that's branding at work? that's branding on 'go-go' juice!

But hold on a moment! You might think this is really great 'branding' however I'd like to offer an alternate viewpoint...

--- Too Much Of A Good Thing

If you were the lucky/unlucky manufacturer of 'band-aids' you'd now be in the unfortunate position of seeing your brand lose most of its value because it has passed into the vocabulary of the buying public as a GENERAL term.

Your product which you worked so hard to promote... has lost all its specificity. In other words, your product branding is now helping the competition sell there alternate 'band-aid like' products.

--- Brand Life Cycles

You've probably heard me say that for most of us (probably 80% or more) we need to focus on selling not brand building. Sure branding is a great add-on if you can do it, but you have got to have deep pockets to pull it off successfully. And you've have to be very, very, very patient.

Assuming that you create the next super brand, and your product takes on a life of its own, there will be that first glory phase when your products name will be uniquely linked to you, your product and the benefits and value it provides.

If you keep going strong your product will be synonymous with the brand name? and eventually the unthinkable will happen: One day, the buying public will use your product name - your brand name - to refer not to your specific product, but to the family or type of product!

--- The End Of An Ear? Or Is That Era?

From that day forth, your product name, your brand name will now be an eponym. You'll be the Kleenex of facial tissues, the band-aid of plasters, the Teflon of non-stick coatings. Life will be grim?

Of course, you'll be filthy stinking rich at that point and whether you get another dime off the brand name is really neither here nor there.

But I'm sure you see my point. The brand is born, it develops over time, if you're lucky it is welcomed by the masses and they embrace your brand product. It over stays its welcome and eventually becomes a mainstay of conversation - the end.

Do you think Good Year or Pirelli or Firestone or some of the other tire manufactures will suffer that ignominious fate?

They should be so lucky - until next time.


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