‘Do you “Google?”‘ has to be one of the most patronizing blog posts ever to have originated from the Googleplex. (In fact I’ve just noticed that the title itself sets the tone of the post – a blatant mocking of the slogan of it’s nearest competitor.)
The issue at hand is the supposed over-use of the term “Google” as an interchangeable for the word “search”. Google is concerned it could potentially lose most of the rights of trademark due if common usage of the word is deemed to have occurred in everyday English language.
This is what’s known as a ‘Genericized Trademark‘. Of course, Google have pulled this shit before – previously on the media and industry – but this is the first time they’ve focused their attention directly towards Joe Public.
Google begins their post by highlighting the ‘fate’ of such ‘victims’ (their words) as Thermos, Cellophane, Escalator and Trampoline. At this point my heart already begins to bleed for them. Why, what almighty travesty must have occurred when my forefathers started to refer to the receptacles they kept their tea warm in as ‘Thermos flasks’ and the kitchen wrap their sandwiches came in as ‘cellophane’.
Whilst I respect the concept of trademarks, I ultimately believe that no one owns or controls the English language – which of course is an ever-evolving and organic concept. What defines whether something is part of the English language is simply whether it’s used enough in common dialogue. In fact, according to the Oxford Dictionary a word must only be published five times in the space of five years for it to be considered to have obtained ‘currency’.
It’s thus with some guile that Google has taken the trouble to write this very blog post – to do it’s utmost to prevent the term from becoming so common it becomes a generic trademark by default. From that perspective the post reads more like the final move of a desperate party who can see that the end is nigh. This is it’s last-ditched attempt with a somewhat defensive public plea.
I also don’t like the fact that this post, which has the intended ‘casual front’ of something a bored employee must have written during a slow afternoon one day, is clearly a very calculated and considered move by Google’s PR and legal teams.
In fact the informal tone trips itself on occasions as it clashes condescendingly with the very formal ‘key phrases’ obviously written by the legal team to keep the post ‘on message’. For example:
“Google is a trademark identifying Google Inc. and our search technology and services. While we’re pleased that so many people think of us when they think of searching the web, let’s face it, we do have a brand to protect, so we’d like to make clear that you should please only use “Google” when you’re actually referring to Google Inc. and our services.”
If the direct approach doesn’t work, Google goes on to offer some ‘hopefully helpful examples’ of when it’s ok and not ok to use the term ‘Google’. I’ll leave you to be patronized as you read them for yourself in the post, but suffice to say it’s all a bit cheeky considering the point made above — that correct use of language is defined by the masses.
It also gets my back up that each example concludes with a verdict of “Our [Google] lawyers say:”. Why do I want to be told how to construct my sentences by Google’s lawyers? Under the binds of an employment contract or similar can a company dictate how it’s brand is or isn’t used in everyday discussion – but last time I checked Google declined my invitation of employeeship and thus life-long dedication to the lexiconic correct usage of their oh -so-mighty brand.
Brand management – bad for business
But in an era of API’s, data sharing, and general Web2.0 love, I really don’t get why Google is being so, well, Web1.0 about this? (well ok maybe Google is only Web1.5 to begin with!)
In many ways, having “Google” as a generic term for “searching” does nothing but promote their brand and reaffirms their presence as the top search provider. People choose Google because of the quality and reputation of it’s product – esp in an environment where there is no financial or economic considerations to use one product over another (unlike, for example, the vacuum flask market where genuine Thermos brand items tend to be more expensive than their generic rivals).
Consumers don’t choose Google because of it’s brand or the ‘lifestyle marketing’ built around it and thus I feel Google has very little to loose. Think ‘coke’ and the potential benefits Pepsi might obtain by using the generic term ‘coke’ for an example on that one.
In the UK the term ‘Hoover’ became the common term for a vacuum cleaner due to the company’s success back in the middle of the 20th Century. These days the Hoover is a small-time player in the market but it’s presence is kept alive by the everyday use of the term. In fact the prevalence of the term ‘Hoover’ in a market where it is no longer the leading manufacture creates a heritage which bestows virtues of quality and dependability (perhaps unwarrantably) upon the company.
Go shove it
But in the end, regardless of whether it’s positive, harmful or somewhat in between for Google, I for one don’t like to be told how to use the English language.
The decision of which words I use is my decision. The decision to refer to trademarked terms as generic terms in conversation through to casual blogging is my decision. Together as society, the choice of which terms are used regularly and thus become officially public domain is our decision.
We own our language. So Google, you can go shove your lexicographical ‘advice’ up your ass.