February 20, 2006

Genericide unsweated at Google?

If you're not a regular TV watcher, you should still take notice of the recent 30-second Pontiac ad, which closes with a brief glimpse of Pontiac being typed into the Google search box, with the voice-over "Don't take our word for it, Google 'Pontiac' to find out!" (There's some commentary here.)

One dog that isn't barking in the discussion: Google doesn't seem to be making a fuss in this case about genericide. The company has been worried about the problem at least since early 2003, when Google's lawyers asked Word Spy to "to make sure that when people use 'Google,' they are referring to the services our company provides and not to Internet searching in general", by adding "Note that Google™ is a trademark identifying the search technology and services of Google Technologies Inc." to the entry for google v. See here, here, here for more discussion about this ancient history.

In contrast, the coverage of the Pontiac ad features stuff like this:

Google tells me Pontiac did seek their permission to use Google in the ad. Google did not pay to be in the ad, nor was it any type of comarketing activity. Says Google:

"We are happy that Pontiac has featured Google search in their television ad campaign. This is evidence that mainstream brand advertisers are increasingly realizing the close relationship between broadcast advertising and search usage."

But the ad's voice-over just invites us to "google Pontiac", not to "check out 'Pontiac' using Google ™ brand search" or whatever. The ad does show a glimpse of Google's search page, which might count legally as a substitute for all the TM verbiage, I don't know. But it seems to me that there's also a key practical difference between Google's situation and the situation of Xerox or Kleenex. As long as Google controls the domain names, anyone who generically googles something will in fact do it via Google rather than a rival service.

See this BusinessWeek article for additional context.

Posted by Mark Liberman at February 20, 2006 12:01 PM