When I worked in the magazine business, one of the things we had to watch out for was trademark genericization — that process through which a brand name achieves so much market dominance that it becomes a term for all varieties of the product. Some examples include thermos, aspirin (and heroin), the Phillips-head screw, and kerosene. We had to be careful to use generic terms whenever possible, which meant we would talk about a photocopier (not Xerox), facial tissue (not Kleenex) or an interlocking/hook-and-loop fabric (instead of Velcro). Thus did we pledge our fealty to the Lanham Act. (Of course, here in the South, “coke” is often the appellation of choice for any carbonated beverage, the sort that other folks call soda or pop.)
Another word that became problematic regarded the background music one might typically find in a department store, a restaurant, or an elevator. I don’t even remember the locution we employed — it’s been fifteen years and then some. But I do remember we didn’t call it Muzak. That word belonged to a specific programming service that provided environmental soundscapes (I don’t think that was the term either, but it’s close.) And of course, the word leaked into the popular culture, where it became a semi-pejorative for the kind of music your grandparents might listen to — Mantovani, Roger Whittaker, and such. (By the way, that wasn’t entirely accurate — as the years went by, Muzak’s playlists were tweaked and adapted for a variety of settings.)
But apparently, the word Muzak is being shuffled off to the Old Trademarks Home, where it will serenade Speedy Alka-Seltzer (mascot for “an effervescent antacid”) and Reddy Kilowatt (spokescritter for “electricity generation”). The reason? The parent company (which describes itself as a “sensory marketing provider”) also deals in
music, signage, audio-visual displays and smells, among other things, for more than half a million commercial locations around the world.
The honchos at the parent company simply want to unify and streamline their branding, and so the Muzak brand (which the company acquired in 2011) is going to that big elevator in the sky. But did I mention the name of the parent company?
It’s called Mood Media. So even though you won’t hear the easy listening sounds of Muzak, it will still be Mood music.
And really, Muzak