Turning Your Brand Name into a Verb: Why it Rarely Works

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Turning Your Brand Name into a Verb: Why it Rarely Works

Is it true that the more you know, the more you Kohl’s? Is taking stock in the long term Vanguarding?  And will you Bing it if you’re searching for something online?

Kohl’s Department Stores, Vanguard Investments, and Microsoft are the latest marketers to try turning a company brand or product name into a verb. It’s an old marketing strategy, but it rarely works. Here’s why.

Let’s Go Krogering?

When I was growing up in Toledo, Ohio, everyone shopped for groceries at Kroger’s. Back then, Kroger’s ran an advertising campaign with a song whose lyrics were “Let’s go Krogering, Krogering, Krogering,” as if shopping at Kroger was an action that deserved its own verb.

The campaign’s catchy tune certainly helped Kroger build brand awareness. The fact that I can remember it decades later is proof of that. And Kroger still uses the “Let’s Go Krogering” line on some marketing materials.

But to my knowledge, “Krogering” never became part of the lexicon as a verb. I don’t remember anyone using the term “Krogering” to actually describe shopping at Kroger’s, as in, “I’m going to the drugstore and then I’m going Krogering.”  Why? I think Kroger’s was already too established as a noun; it’s a place, not an action. Also, “Krogering” is an awkward word that could never replace the simpler verb, “shopping.”

Google It

One company that has succeeded in turning its brand name into a verb is Google. We now use Google as a verb so often that it’s hard to remember when we didn’t.

Google was able to pull this marketing strategy off for three reasons:

  1. Google offered extraordinary value no one had ever seen. The type of service Google provided was so new and so unique that it was a blank branding canvas.
  2. The company was uncategorized as a business entity and its quirky name was a new word that didn’t already have an established meaning.
  3. The word “Google” felt like a verb with its similarity to other two-syllable verbs that end in “gle” and indicate action: toggle, wiggle, giggle, haggle, mingle, single, etc. To “Google” was something that made sense in relation to other verbs in the English language.

Kohl’s, Vanguard, and Microsoft Give it a Try

Now, three more marketers are trying the brand-into-verb marketing strategy. Kohl’s is running a TV campaign whose theme is, “The more you know, the more you Kohl’s.” According to The New York Times, Vanguard Investments is launching a new advertising campaign about Vanguarding. And Microsoft is suggesting we “Bing it” when we want to find something online.

These marketers will pour millions of dollars into advertising in an effort to turn their brands into verbs. Will it work? I’m betting the results will be mixed at best.

Like Kroger’s, Kohl’s is a place, not an action. If the more you know, the more you Kohl’s, then you are “Kohling” when you shop there. You don’t go “Kohling” just like you don’t go “Krogering.” A smarter marketing strategy for Kohl’s might be to focus on the fact that its sales extend to everything in the store, unlike competitors whose sale coupons have limited applicability. Kohl’s makes this point in its current advertising campaign, but it’s a secondary message.

“Vanguarding” is an awkward term that’s hard to understand at a glance and needs too much explanation. Everyone knows what guarding means and many people understand the term vanguard, but what exactly is “vanguarding?” Is it synonymous with guarding? That’s what Vanguard wants to achieve, but I think it’s a long shot. When a marketer needs to spend too much time explaining the concept in order for the market to understand the point of the campaign, it’s generally not a smart marketing strategy.

But Bing just might work:

  • Like Google, Bing has the structure of a verb (ring, sing, ping, and everything that ends in –ing);
  • There is no well-established definition of the term “bing;” it’s a word that Microsoft is free to define;
  • It’s a simple term that needs very little explanation; you can grasp its meaning quickly;
  • “Binging it” sounds like something someone might actually do.

Do you think these campaigns will work? And if you grew up in the Midwest in the 1960s, do you remember the “Let’s Go Krogering” song?

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