Google’s launch of its social networking site, Google Plus, has caused a lot of attention and speculation in the media. However, it is not just the site itself that has provoked discussion, but its name too.
Unlike Google, Apple is a company that has launched its products and services under new names, for example, recently using a lowercase letter ‘i’ to distinguish a service as belonging to it.
Whilst this strategy has been successful in some cases, in others Apple’s use of common words such as ‘phone’ or ‘book’ in combination with ‘i’ has caused it to face lawsuits for trademark infringement as mentioned in our previous blog, Apple under fire again-this time over ibook.
Although Apple has generally managed to fight or pay its way into keeping its chosen brand names, what is for sure is that Google by using its pre-existing trademark for its other services, will be unlikely to attract costly lawsuits over trademark infringement.
Google’s brand strategy
It is not just with Google Plus that Google has used this lower cost more straightforward approach to its new names. It has launched other products under the GOOGLE brand name such as Google News, Google Translate, and Google Chrome.
As well as this, alongside the introduction of Google Plus, two of its existing services are also getting a rebrand. The names for Google’s longstanding products Picasa and Blogger are going to be retired. Picasa will become ‘Google Photos’ while Blogger will become ‘Google Blogs’.
Ben Parr of Mashable states that this ‘brand unification effort will be the largest in the company’s history’. By bringing more of Google’s products under one brand name, this will help to strengthen and solidify the Google brand. Over the past few years Google has managed to be a consistently highly rated brand, meaning that any new products will benefit from using the company’s name.
However, despite the fact that Google’s strategy of launching its social networking site under the existing brand name has some upsides, its decision has come under scrutiny, mainly because some think that the name ‘Google’ is associated with a search engine rather than a Social Network, so that when they hear the name Google, ‘social’ does not enter their heads. Therefore, some have criticized Google for not launching its social media site under a different brand name
Is it really going to strengthen Google’s brand to extend the original brand name to other areas? Or is the power of a brand in its ability to pinpoint a specific service to one name? Whereas before, the word ‘Google’ was synonymous with its search engine service, extending this meaning to cover social networking as well could weaken or strengthen the power of this brand.
Rather than trying to launch a new service, separate from its search engine one, what Google is trying to do is to make Google more ‘’people centric”. Vic Gondotra, the leader of Google’s social efforts, stated “We’re transforming Google itself into a social destination at a level and scale that we’ve never attempted — orders of magnitude more investment, in terms of people, than any previous project”. Rather than trying to provide just a social media service, Google itself wants to become more social.
So when branding products, it seems Google’s approach is one that might eliminate lawsuits over trademark infringement, and also help to strengthen the brand as a whole. As the web becomes more social, and Google is in danger of being taken over and replaced by sites such as Facebook, Google’s decision to rebrand itself as ‘social’, bringing the company name into this brand, will help it to redefine itself in accordance to the changing nature of web usage.
One problem Google has been facing is the increasing tendency for people to use its name as a verb. In recent times people have talked about ‘goggling’ or ‘facebooking’. While it may be flattering for a brand to gain such recognition this could be disastrous for its trade mark rights.
Take for example ASPIRIN. It used to be a trademarked name for a pain reliever medicine made of acetylsalicylic acid which was made by only one company. Now it is synonymous with that type of pain killer and made by many companies.
Many other once famous marks are now only generic words and no longer trademarks including CATERPILLER, HOOVER, THERMOS and WALKMAN while XEROX and KLEENEX have gone dangerously close to losing their marks.
When a mark is generic it means the trade mark is synonymous with all versions of that product.
There are steps you can take to prevent this from happening. One way to reduce risk is to use generic descriptors to clearly differentiate the trade mark and the product. That is, Xerox copier or Kleenex tissues, and to ensure everyone else does likewise.
If a mark becomes generic it is almost impossible for the mark to be registered again. It will be deemed to lack distinctiveness and then everyone will be able to use it.
By choosing to stick with its existing brand name, for Google Plus is Google helping or hindering itself? Will Google’s decision to use its name with brand extension descriptors put it in a better or worse position to avoid genericity? What do you think? I hope to hear readers’ thoughts.