This morning I saw a Dex commercial urging the viewer to “Dex it” when they needed to look something up. Dex it? Instead of Googling searching online for it? Well, first off, I have opted-out of receiving most telephone books, because the time I spend bringing it back from the front of the driveway will likely be the longest it is ever in my hands, and I just can’t justify cutting a tree down, even for those wonderful 30 seconds. So even if I wanted to “Dex it,” I couldn’t.
Secondly, what struck me most about the commercial was the message Dex was sending. Essentially, “we are the go-to place to search for local information.” So essential, it would seem, that you should just drop “look it up” from your everyday vocabulary and replace it with “dex.” I imagine the marketing folks loved this one, and apparently they won the battle with the legal team, which I’m sure was telling the company what a horrible idea it was to use the company name in this way. Or maybe legal knows what they’re doing. What do I know.
Dex Media has a good number of registered trademarks – just over 40 live marks. Almost every single one of them incorporates the word “dex”. The plain-old, original DEX trademark was apparently first used back in 1997 and registered in 2002. Now it appears that Dex is hoping to whittle away at the rights they’ve built up in their marks by encouraging the public to use it generically.
Typically, use of a trademark as anything other than an adjective weakens the rights in that mark. Supplanting the mark for a noun or a verb in a sentence changes the mark’s meaning and its understanding. When the mark is later accepted by the public as a noun (think cellophane or aspirin) it becomes generic, and the mark’s owner loses rights in it.
Interestingly, the company is attempting to use the phrase DEX IT! in a trademark sense. On their website, they’ve applied a TM symbol to that phrase. Perhaps they’re hoping that by incorporating a trademark as a verb within a phrase in which they claim trademark rights, they can prevent genericide. Regardless of Dex’s intent about how the mark is used, however, if the public understands and uses the word DEX as a verb, it loses its ability to function as a trademark. And likewise, if the phrase DEX IT! begins to simply mean “search for it in a local telephone book,” as one might suspect if the word DEX becomes generic, the phrase will offer no protection, either.
Of course, all this depends somewhat on the public actually using the phrase DEX IT, which would in turn probably require the public to begin using the Yellow Pages telephone directory again…