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Product Names with a Life of Their Own

In 1907, the American Thermos Bottle Company launched a marketing campaign to popularize its vacuum-insulated bottles. They succeeded so spectacularly that “thermos” became a household word. The problem was, by the early 1920s, competitors were using the term “thermos” to describe their vacuum-insulated bottles as well. And so began the battle for the trademark, which included multiple lawsuits, changing the name of the business to the American Thermos Products Company, and launching Thermos-branded tents and stoves in an effort to prove that “thermos” was not a generic word for vacuum bottles. But it was too late. In 1963 a court deemed that the term “had entered the public domain beyond recall.”

Thermos is not the only corporate brand to fall victim to its own success. “Escalator,” “laundromat,” and “zipper” all used to be trademarks. Believe it or not, a company called Sealed Air Corporation still holds the rights to “Bubble Wrap,” Wham-O Inc. owns “Hula Hoop,” and Sony is hanging on to “Memory Stick.” Velcro went as far as producing a music video urging us to refer to generic versions of their product as “hook and loop,” but that’s not going to catch on.

Possible Preaching Angle:

Positive spin: Many words in Christianity have also taken on a “life of their own.” We commonly hear phrases like “it’s the gospel truth,” “it is the company’s mission statement,” and it is “their cross to bear.” This can be an aid to preaching, if we are careful to define what the Bible means by these now familiar words.

Negative spin: We must be careful that the gospel, the cross, and our mission not be watered down by the world hijacking biblical words, redefining them, and robbing them of their original unique spiritual meaning.

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