Sometimes it sucks to own a brand category. Just ask Zamboni. Or better yet, Google "Olympic Zamboni fail".
The problem is, those environmentally responsible ice resurfacers that wrecked the ice at the men’s 500 meter speed skating event on Monday weren't Zamboni® brand. They were Canadian-made Olympia machines from Canada's Resurfice, "What every ice resurfacer should be."
According to the CTV coverage of the incident, VANOC says they chose the Canadian supplier due to a significantly lower cost. At the same time, it has long been known that old-style gas-driven machines are really bad for indoor air quality, and that the adoption of electric Olympias was part of Canada's attempt at creating a "green Olympics" image. Oh yeah, and the whole "Canada #1" thing.
What makes this really tragic for the Canadian supplier is that they had beat out a giant in the industry. According to Zamboni's latest press release, they were the exclusive supplier to the Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Salt Lake, Nagano, Lillehammer, Lake Placid, Sapporo, Innsbruck and Squaw Valley, and "participated" in the Winter Olympic Games in Calgary and Sarajevo.
Zamboni got a further boost when it became publicly known that Olympics organizers were shipping in a trusted old Zamboni from the Calgary Olympic Oval — overnight and over the mountains — to fix some of the problems.
You'd think Zamboni would be cheering. But brand leadership does not work that way.
From their release:
"This past weekend, the ice resurfacing equipment at one of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games apparently malfunctioned and was unable to perform its resurfacing task. These machines were not manufactured by the Zamboni Company.
A few media outlets have published inaccurate information regarding those machines, associating the Zamboni brand name with the malfunctioning ice resurfacers.
While it is unfortunate that there was an interruption to the Winter Olympic events, please note: the resurfacers which were on the ice during those events were not Zamboni® brand ice resurfacers and should not be referred to as "Zamboni machines"."
What's the big deal? When you're the leader, you have everything to lose. Just as we commonly call all adhesive bandages "Band-Aids" or all tissue "Kleenex", Zamboni is suffering from being used as a generic term. Intellectual property lawyers hate this, because it means losing control of the brand. (It's also the reason that the cutesy jingle "I am stuck on Band-Aid, 'cause Band-Aid's stuck on me!" has become the awkward "I am stuck on Band-Aid® Brand, 'cause Band-Aid's stuck on me!")
In Zamboni's case, while the brand certainly benefits from name recognition when an Olympia is generically referred to as a "zamboni", they also suffer much more damage when their name is taken in vain over a competitor's fail.
Zamboni got off easy. At least they weren't misidentified as having a key role in a horrible massacre, leading to their name being forever associated with mind cults and control. That honour goes to Kool-Aid. Turns out Jones may well have served up Flavor Aid instead.