The perils of ubiquity

It behoves me every time my children say the word ‘Kleenex’ to refer to the generic category of ‘facial tissue,’ to correct them (particularly since we aren’t quite stushy enough for name brands most of the time). But why is it that ‘Kleenex’ has come to stand for all facial tissues? My suggestions is that it is both a matter of marketing success and an implosion through ubiquity.

Ubiquity, it seems, is a double edged sword. On the one hand if you or your idea or product ends up being everywhere (i.e. ubiquitous) then you enjoy a position of prominence. On the other hand, once your ‘brand’ becomes synonymous with or is used as a substitute for the generic category then you run the risk of dissolution as a unique entity. That is, through ubiquity, your unique character becomes invisible. 

Through the history of packaged products and brands you can see many examples of this. The most famous of which is, perhaps, the Hoover brand for vacuums. The same thing is now happening with the verb-ification of the name Google to stand for searching for things.

Ubiquity breads invisibility in that, after a while, the point of origin is precluded by Louis Althusser’s always already-ness. At the same time, when things become more ubiquitous they become more powerful in the generic, and less powerful in the specific.