Thursday, August 24, 2006

Some Are Just Powerful Brands

I was making my usual rounds on the information highway and I happened to bump into one blogsite under the caretaking of an individual called Howard. Apparently, the dude or dudess ( I coined the word "dudess" myself, so don't go checking out Webster and them), is Tanzanian. The only post on that blog questioned the use of language, particularly when one brand name is applied to mean the other.

Well, let me pull my old marketing files from the back of my medulla oblongata ( I have no clue where that is, but I am certain it is part of my brain). I am sure marketing students and professionals will enjoy this. If I missed anything, I am open for critiquing.

In the blog post by Mr. Howard, it is apparent that he was irked by the used of the word "sheli" or Shell to denote a gasoline station. He wondered why Shell could be used to mean BP for instance. Well, Mr. Howard, I got news for you. The use of the word "Shell" to denote a gasoline selling station in Tanzania is more of a marketing concept. It signifies the power that some brand names have acquired over time, and therefore enabling such brand names to transcend beyond their "brand" territories. Such brands become generic to replace the product or service they represent.

It is apparent that Shell company in Tanzania succeed in the becoming such brand name. It acquired such a transcending status to the extent that any gasoline station is synonymous to "sheli". Even Shell company cannot help to change that. There are other examples of such brands. Xerox, for instance, has crossed over the generic side, acquiring a new meaning to signify "making a photocpy". A boss in an American company is most likely to ask you :" Joe, can you xerox this document for me? Our client in Chicago needs this urgently" as opposed to "Joe, can you make a photocopy of this document for me? Our client in Chicago needs this urgently".

Another example of such powerful brands that have crossed over to the generic side is Kleenex. For some reason, this soft tissue brand name has become to mean just that - any soft tissue. So when a collegue at work or a friend with cold and flu asks you to provide them with a "kleenex" to wipe the running nose, they will certainly not be referring to Kleenex as a brand, but ANY soft tissue. I have a friend from Zimbabwe who once told me that Coca-Cola has had the same status in Zimbabwe to the extent and soda drinks are synonymous to Coca-Cola, just the pronounciation and accent changes. So this is not a Tanzanian thing, but a global marketing reality.

Language is a dynamic phenomenon. It is dynamic because it evolves and no one can really put a stop to that evolution process. It is not lie that every generation has attempted to coin and come up with their own expressions and terminologies. Either to confuse the old guards, or just to mix it up and feel a sense of belonging. It is amazing that even in Tanzania, some members of parliament have tried to put a fight in "standardizing" Swahili. Read this. Such an attempt is senseless and will only prove to be futile. Besides, what is the point of having any language aside from communication? So, if two or three folks can understand each other, then the essence of any language has been fulfilled.

So whether someone uses BP to mean a gasoline station, or another uses Dell to mean PCs, it shouldn't be a great deal, given that such brands have earned their generic status or folks communicating understand what is being communicated. Such is a beauty of language. Such is a power of some brands that have come our way to mean the process or products they represent. Such is life.

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