As a non-native English speaker living in the UK, I am always amazed by how the locals manipulate Shakespeare's language. In spite of historical connections between French and English, inherited from years of reciprocal invasions, the two languages are significantly different in the way their syntax is constructed and evolves.
For instance, the French tend to turn everything into nouns. We don't "generalise", we make "generalisations". As a result, most additions to the French dictionary are nouns. In English, on the contrary, as soon as there is some level of interest in an action, people are likely to "verb" it.
And brands tend to trigger such interests.
It is therefore common to come across brand names in the English thesaurus. A British citizen is likely to say: "I'm going to hoover the carpets" because of the electrical appliance brand, Hoover, that has penetrated the collective unconsciousness after years of market domination.
Interesting enough, Hoover market share is now depleting in favour of Dyson, but the expression remains amongst older generations who had known its full glory. On the other hand, nowadays no teenagers would ever say "I will hoover my room" (assuming that a teenager knows what cleaning a room means). Note that they do not say that they will dyson either. They will come up with their own generational terminology once they will have figured out how dangerous for their health rotting pizzas can be.
Let me close here my housekeeping digression, and come back to our core area of interest: online advertising.
Obviously, in the digital space, Google has been vacuuming consumer's attention for the last half decade, turning itself into a generic term to describe the action of searching online. When Microsoft launched its new search experience under the brand Bing, immediately people started questioning whether it was the right brand. And by "right" most wondered whether consumers could actually turn the brand into a verb.
This is the wrong debate.
In line with its innovative and rejuvenating search experience, Bing, as a brand term, has a lot of value: short, memorable, easy to spell, fresh. It is also traditionally the sound of found and, to boot, works globally. In Chinese, Bing is pronounced "bee-ying" and its meaning is derived from the last two characters of a proverb which says "ask and you shall find".
Both product and brand resonate amongst consumers as the initial US performance testify.
But will it make its way to the dictionary? And should we long for it?
Maybe, but I am not so sure. On the one hand it is a great proof of consumer endorsement, but on the other hand there is a thin line between being a dominant brand and becoming a mere generic verb. Because ultimately marketers are keen on top of mind, as long as it translates into preference.
What if suddenly customers were to describe the positive consumption of your competitor's product by using your brand. You would be commoditized, and your brand would lose its value.
Many market leaders have faced this issue: Kleenex in the tissue industry, Caddie in merchandising, Kärcher in the gardening sector. All of them have led legal actions against trademark infringements to protect their brands and try to reinstate them as such, rather than category terms.
To sum things up, it is good to remember that consumers have free will. Brands can influence them, but they cannot dictate. Brands try to create preference and, if they succeed, then maybe the rest will follow. Let's not reverse cause and effect.
Bing, with its consumer-centric experience, has got all the assets to encourage trial, convert new users and build up a loyal base of brand fans. The latter are the one who can literally spread the word. And research proves they are likely to be listened to.
If the internet has significantly evolved over the last 10 years (think social and rich media, etc.), the search experience has not. Until recently it was just 10 blue links. Google was the word of that generation. Some may say, it is a product of another generation. But let's face it, Bing has breathed some fresh air into the search experience, and we should see things moving, both in product. and language.