The "Lawyers of Kleenex" are taking a soft approach to the hard realities of genericide

Kleenex's new social media brand campaign is trying to stave off a loss in trademark value
Kleenex? Or Kleenex brand tissue?
Kleenex? Or Kleenex brand tissue?
Photo: Sara Stathas (Reuters)
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You’re not grabbing a Kleenex tissue to wipe your tears—you’re grabbing a Kleenex brand tissue to wipe your tears, according to Kleenex, which wants to remind the public of the proper use of its name as we head into the season of colds and flu.

Under the weather or not, most people don’t think about the importance of trademark protection, says Jon Horn, the North American vice president of marketing at Kleenex brand.

So in an effort to educate people in an engaging way, and to protect the use of its trademark name, the company came up with an ad campaign featuring “the lawyers of Kleenexsharing their appreciation for people who use the Kleenex brand in the correct way, rather than writing cease and desist letters to those who don’t.

While the campaign may sound silly, there’s a real reason why Kleenex doesn’t want to lose its trademark name.

Why does Kleenex care so much about protecting its trademark?

When a brand becomes so ubiquitous that it turns into a generic term for any kind of similar product, it can lose its trademark value the brand owner’s ability to distinguish itself in the market. The official term for this is genericide, and one of the most famous instances of it got litigated in the 1921 case Bayer Co. v United Drug Co., in which Bayer lost its trademark for Aspirin. Since then, “aspirin” has entered the public domain.

Other victims of genericide include Elevator and Thermos. For now, though, Kleenex, along with brands like Band-Aid and Xerox, and even newer brands like Zoom, have been spared from genericide, at least officially, and continue to keep their trademarks despite how common their names have become.

Hands in suit sleeves putting a heart shape over the circle R trademark.
Image: Courtesy of company

Kleenex isn’t the first potential genericide victim to invoke lawyerly concerns in an attempt to get the public on their side. This music video posted to YouTube, for example, features actors playing lawyers singing about Velcro brand fasteners.

Don’t Say Velcro