"A brand is an adjective, not a verb" is one of the tenets of trademark law. It's the reason Google's lawyers get on their high horse when we say "I Googled it" instead of "I performed a Google search," and it's why you blow your nose not in a Kleenex but in "a Kleenex-brand facial tissue." (Sure you do.) Turning a trademark into a verb, the argument goes, dilutes it into a generic term.
But what if the company itself is doing the verbing? It's happening a lot these days:
1. I Zappos to get noticed say the confessional ads for the online shoe store. (Also "I Zappos at the office" and "Oh yes, I Zappos for the thrill of it.") Marty Schwimmer at The Trademark Blog says this usage is distinct from "I Tivo'ed that episode":
As opposed to the fragmented mature market of online retail, Tivo, like Xerox (and RollerBlade) is a technological pioneer. Most people were exposed to DVR technology through the Tivo name, and there was no serious competition for several years.
Online retail, by contrast, is a "fragmented mature market," says Schwimmer, and if by turning itself into a verb Zappos succeeds in becoming the generic term by buying shoes online, "then the marketing director will get a promotion." Conclusion: Bravo, Zappos.
2. Let's nüvi: From Garmin, the GPS people, nüvi is a new "personal travel assistant" that comes with lower-case n and Häagen-Dazs umlaut as standard equipment. Marty Schwimmer's argument may apply here as well: There are many competing GPS devices, but no single brand has become synonymous with the technology. Transforming nüvi into a verb accomplishes two ends: it suggests the device's function (movement, travel, action--very verby, in other words) and strives to make it a category dominator.
3. Way to relief is the tagline for Amitiza, a new drug for constipation and irritable bowel syndrome from Sucampo Pharmaceuticals. Namer X, who brought it to my attention, writes:
Among the various potential interpretations, there's a kind of chest-thumping, high-fiving reading, as when your friend returns from the WC just in time for the second-half kickoff, and you holler, "Dude! Way to relief!"
From the placement of the print ads (women's magazines like Ladies' Home Journal and Better Homes and Gardens) I suspect that isn't quite the scenario the company wants us to envision. But beyond that, I thought maybe we were reading the tagline incorrectly: Is it meant to be "The way to relief"? No, I don't think so. I think relief is being used here exactly as nüvi is being used by Garmin: as a synonym for go. Way to go, Sucampo Pharmaceuticals--your passion to innovate (yes, I'm afraid that's the corporate tagline) is clearly extending into linguistics.
4. Conquesting: This participalization comes not from advertisements but from advertising executives, who--according to the Wall Street Journal--use it to mean "raining on a competitor's parade" or (in one marketing guy's memorable phrase) "getting under the fingernails" of the competition. In conquesting, a company takes out an ad right next to editorial content about a rival. It's a word that reeks of alpha-geek, and although I can't swear to it, I wouldn't be surprised to learn it comes from the world of online gaming. (There at least eight games called Conquest.) Note that conquesting is quite different from conquering. Conquer implies an ongoing process; conquest is a fait accompli. Which could explain why verbized nouns are so popular in marketing: they combine action and states of being.
5. I want reliable: This line from a Transamerica print ad is a relatively rare example of adjectival nouning in advertising. The guy wants reliability, but it he wants it ASAP. The clipped form says "I don't waste time or breath on superfluous syllables." This construction is far from new: in conversation, you might hear "I like modern," or "Let's order Chinese." In the past, ad-speak was been more likely to insert an object: "When you need it fast..." Now, apparently, we just need fast.
A personal note: I've worked with a couple of naming clients who requested a "verbable" name. To them, the verbability of FedEx, Google, RollerBlade, et al., was a sign not of trademark vulnerability but of marketing success.
Their lawyers, of course, begged to differ.
(Read my previous post about anthimeria--the use of a word outside of its customary part of speech.)
(Hat tip to Calvin and Hobbes for this post's title; in the original comic strip, the phrase was "Verbing weirds language.")