The Frankenstein effect: controlling brand identity in marketing
Crap killer clowns, humdrum Harley Quinns and boring, boring, boring black swans – every Halloween party is brimming with endless variations of the same duff, dodgy, dull as dishwater costumes.
And every one of them is about as scary as a flannel.
But, as any fans of the classic book will tell you, the worst of the lot has to be the Frankenstein’s.
Mainly because people always get it wrong.
When you go all-out grotesque giant with your costume, you’re dressing up as Frankenstein’s monster – not Frankenstein as you might mistakenly declare, who is, after all, only a fictitious 19th century scientist.
At no point, does author Mary Shelley name Frankenstein’s creation, it’s simply referred to as the “wretch”. So, when you erroneously label your Halloween costume Frankenstein, you’re missing a major thematic point of the novel.
Let’s cut to the chase
What this Halloween disaster illustrates is a branding phenomenon we all know very well – proprietary eponyms, or generic trademarks to put it in somewhat less intimidating terms, meaning the brand names that have become the household name for specific products.
Much like Shelley’s literary creation has taken on a life of its own in popular culture, one that doesn’t adhere to the meaning of the original, branded terms can transform uncontrollably through popular culture.
Consider some of the terms we now use in everyday speech that started out as the name for one specific product.
The list of examples is endless.
You’d probably say that you stepped onto an escalator, not a moving staircase. Or use Vaseline instead of petroleum jelly, Tipp-Ex instead of correction fluid.
Without these generic trademarks, you’d find it much more challenging to ask for what you need at the local store or describe your day, such is our reliance on them.
A cause for concern
You may think this is a positive, to so dominate a market that your brand is the first place everyone’s mind goes to.
But not all companies have looked so fondly on this strange situation, knowing it only as trademark erosion.
Once your word or phrase enters common usage, you’re suddenly in charge of a double-edged sword – it can no longer be registered, and you won’t be able to govern the quality of products or services it becomes attached to in the future.
Like Shelley, who’s doomed to forever watch people incorrectly identifying themselves as Frankenstein every Halloween, once your name becomes public property, you can only stand by and watch what happens next.
That’s why some companies, like Apple, work hard to control trademarks.
It recently fought for the rights to the name iPad for its tablets, recognising the importance of maintaining exclusive usage of phrases and words inherent to its brand identity.
On the flipside, you’re experiencing an extraordinary level of recognition, especially if you can stop genericization from occurring.
And the nature of generic trademarking is ever changing.
The future of trademarks in marketing
More and more in the modern world of social media, we find that brand names are used as verbs.
Think about it.
You “Google” a restaurant’s menu, you don’t search an online database.
You “Snapchat” your friend, you don’t just send them a photo.
Brand names are now used to describe everyday actions, not just products.
People know they can’t manage without your brand – your products and services – because it’s a part of how they live and speak.
But, like a great book ruined by a clueless fan base, you sacrifice your control along the way.
So, what does this mean for the future? Have we reached an age where generic trademarks are running amok? Have we created our own marketing monsters, or is this the evolutionary next step for branding?
It’s a delicate balancing act we’ve perfected at Attercopia. We’re focused on making sure your brand name and identity reaches its audience in an effective and controlled way under a comprehensive marketing strategy, so you say exactly what you need to.