Here's a little branding quiz for you.
Think of a product name that existed for just three years in the 1990s before losing a trademark challenge. The company name survived in slightly altered form, but the product name was replaced by a series of successor names.
More than eleven years after that legal defeat, the original product name is still used, erroneously but ubiquitously, to describe an entire class of products that themselves exist mostly as fading memories.
What's the brand?
I'll give you one hint: it's a technology brand.
Answer after the jump.
The product name is PalmPilot, the first-generation personal digital assistant (PDA) introduced in 1996 by Palm Computing, then a division of U.S. Robotics. The Palm trademark was challenged by pen manufacturer Pilot,which had used "Pilot" as a brand name for its products since 1918. Palm lost, and since 1998 no Palm product has borne the Pilot name.
In fact, Palm no longer makes PDAs at all. Instead, it makes smartphones (Treo, Centro, Pixi), which have subsumed the old PDA category and added innumerable extra functions.
"PalmPilot"—sometimes rendered as Palm pilot or palm pilot—refuses to die. Here are a few examples from 2009 alone:
[A]s Professor Tushnet of Georgetown Law School has documented for her trademark law class, a 2004 Palm pilot [sic] ad campaign included the catchy slogan: “go places, google things.”
—"The Power of the Brand As Verb," New York Times, July 19, 2009. (There was no PalmPilot in 2004.)
"I've been reading ebooks on my Palm Pilot for 5 years." "I've been reading ebooks for years, first on a Palm Pilot and now on an iPhone."
—Comments #11 and #13, "Cellphone Apps Challenge the Rise of E-Readers," New York Times, November 18, 2009. (The PalmPilot was never capable of being an e-book reader, and it hasn't existed during the last five years.)
Someone apparently removed a screen to a ground-level window and took two Palm Pilot PDAs, valued at $400 each.
—"The Grinch Who Stole the Snow Blower," in The Local, the New York Times's New Jersey blog, December 22, 2009. (Even as antiques, PalmPilots probably wouldn't be valued at $400.)
I don't mean to pick on the Times. Here's an example from the December 21/28 New Yorker:
Next to the chimney, on top of the stove, is a piece of black duct tape with a small silver disk beneath it. Plug the disk into a Palm Pilot, and it will tell you exactly when and for how long that stove was used in the previous month.
—"Annals of Invention: Hearth Surgery," by Burkhard Bilger. Full text available only to subscribers; abstract is here. Citation is on page 91 of the print edition.
And how about this, from last Sunday's edition of the Cape Cod Times:
In an era when Internet access is available in the palm pilot of your hand, it's hard to believe that some Massachusetts residents still struggle for a Web connection.
—"State-federal link boosts Web access," December 27, 2009.
I think that's enough to make my point. PalmPilots: dead. PDAs: dead.* And yet PalmPilot/Palm Pilot/palm pilot lives on!
It's as though all video games were today generically known as Pong. Or as though you called your iPod your Walkman.
Can you think of another brand with such a short life and such a long-ago death that survives in everyday parlance? I can't.
* I still own, and occasionally use, a Palm m130, because I'm too cheap to get a smartphone and don't need mobile web access. A well-placed source once told me that the Palm m-series was named for the University of Michigan, the alma mater of the company's marketing director.