Brand names that become generic: 11 terms we use every day - including Tupperware, Hoover and Jacuzzi

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It comes as Tupperware, which was famous for its parties and being used by the late Queen, has struggled to compete with cheaper supermarket knock offs

Tupperware could become the latest big name business to go under, after it announced it was seeking a funding lifeline amid cash flow problems.

Should the 77-year-old American firm fail, it would bring to an end a brand that revolutionised advertising. Its Tupperware Parties format was famously replicated by Avon and Ann Summers.

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It could also mark the demise of a brand whose name has become synonymous with a specific kitchenware item - the hard plastic tub. Unbranded knock offs are found in supermarkets, with rival brands also undercutting Tupperware on price - but we all collectively refer to the tubs as Tupperware.

Several other companies have found that their products have come to define particular product categories. Often, we don’t even realise that we are using a trademark to describe something.

So, which brands have become bywords for the products they sell - and are they still in business? Here’s what you need to know.

  • Tupperware

Founded by Earl Tupper in the US in 1946, Tupperware’s plastic food storage containers have come to define all hard plastic kitchen tubs.

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Tupperware could go under unless it secures more cashflow (image: Getty images)Tupperware could go under unless it secures more cashflow (image: Getty images)
Tupperware could go under unless it secures more cashflow (image: Getty images) | Getty Images

Given the tubs all look relatively similar - even if cheaper versions don’t offer the same quality or durability - Tupperware has suffered as a result of its initial success. After a pandemic-related spike in sales, which hit £402 million in the final quarter of 2020, they tumbled 40% to £241.5 million over the final three months of 2022.

The company now hopes to receive a funding lifeline to keep it going. Should it go under, the Tupperware brand may continue in some form if another firm buys its intellectual property.

  • Hoover

You may think the terms Hoover and vacuum cleaner are interchangeable. But Hoover is actually a trademarked brand.

The Hoover Company was founded in the USA in 1908. Its inventor, James Spangler, shared the concept with his cousin, Susan Hoover, whose husband William went on to market the product.

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Nowadays, the Hoover name is still carried on vacuums and appliances here in the UK. However, the firm’s European arm was bought out by Italian kitchen appliance manufacturer Candy in 1995. The North American branch of the company is owned by Techtronic Industries, which also owns the Vax brand in the UK.

Tarmac is used to surface roads all over the world (image: Getty Images)Tarmac is used to surface roads all over the world (image: Getty Images)
Tarmac is used to surface roads all over the world (image: Getty Images) | Getty Images
  • Tarmac

The road surfacing material is actually a brand. It was patented in 1903 after Welsh inventor Edgar Purnell Hooley created a road surfacing substance - Tarmacadam - that would not break up as easily as previous types. Tarmac still exists as a UK company, although it is now owned by international building materials company CRH.

  • Jacuzzi

Another branded invention that has come to define a product category, Jacuzzis were the first ever hot tubs.

Created by the Jacuzzi brothers in the 1950s, who pioneered an underwater pump system that allowed their hot water tubs to push water jets out, the Jacuzzi brand is still on sale to this day.

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  • Sellotape

See any transparent, sticky tape and the changes are you will refer to it as sellotape. But this is - you guessed it - a brand name.

Invented in London in 1937, the tape played a vital role in World War Two where it was used to seal the allies’ ammunition boxes and prevent windows from shattering if bombs went off. The brand can still be found on shelves, although it is now owned by German multinational Henkel.

German giant Henkel owns Sellotape and Pritt Stick (image: Adobe) German giant Henkel owns Sellotape and Pritt Stick (image: Adobe)
German giant Henkel owns Sellotape and Pritt Stick (image: Adobe) | John Hanson Pye - stock.adobe.co
  • Velcro

Another fastening material, velcro is used all over the world to hold different things together - be they shoe straps, life jacket ties, or even space suits.

Inspired by burdock burrs that got stuck in his dog’s fur in 1941, Swiss inventor George de Mestral used a concept based on the microscopic hooks found on burrs to pioneer the fastening textile. Its name derives from the French words velours (‘velvet’) and crochet (‘hook’). After securing a patent in 1954, the company continues to operate in private ownership.

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  • Blue Tack

According to the brand’s owner Bostik, the origins of Blue Tack are a complete mystery. More than 50 years ago, a worker at the firm conducted a failed experiment to make a new sealant.

The resulting goo was used by other Bostik employees to stick notes to each other’s desks, with the company eventually turning it into a commercially available product that is now a byword for any gooey substance you use to stick a poster or note to a surface. Bostik says the inventor behind Blue Tack has never come forward.

  • Pritt Stick

Created in 1969, the Pritt Stick was the first ever glue stick to be sold. It is now found in classrooms all over the UK and beyond, as well as in space. As with Sellotape, it is owned by German giant Henkel.

The Sharpiegate scandal saw Donald Trump attempt to alter the course of a hurricane (image: AFP/Getty Images)The Sharpiegate scandal saw Donald Trump attempt to alter the course of a hurricane (image: AFP/Getty Images)
The Sharpiegate scandal saw Donald Trump attempt to alter the course of a hurricane (image: AFP/Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images
  • Sharpie

Sharpie is a byword for any permanent marker pen. But it is actually a brand.

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Invented in 1964 by American firm the Sanford Ink Company, it was the world’s first permanent marker in the style of a pen. Its big USP was that it could write on pretty much any surface, from wood to stone.

The pen has done particularly well out of the proliferation of people seeking autographs from actors and sports stars, and has even sponsored sports like Nascar and football. In one of the more unusual episodes in its history, it was implicated in the Donald Trump ‘Sharpiegate’ scandal, where the then-US President was accused of using a permanent marker to alter the predicted course of Hurricane Dorian in 2019.

  • Biro

Ballpoint pens are often referred to as Biros. But the Biro is actually a trademarked product.

Invented by László Bíró, a Hungarian-Argentine journalist who got fed up with fountain pens leaking, the pens use a vacuum to stop ink from drying, with their internal ball allowing for an even spread of ink when the pen’s in use.

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As with Tupperware, sidestepping the trademark meant manufacturers have released their own versions of the ballpoint. But Bic, which owns the original patent, is still synonymous with the brand.

Thermos flasks now represent any vacuum flask (image: Adobe)Thermos flasks now represent any vacuum flask (image: Adobe)
Thermos flasks now represent any vacuum flask (image: Adobe) | vasilii_ko - stock.adobe.com
  • Thermos

Invented in Scotland by scientist Sir James Dewar in 1892, the vacuum flask is now often referred to as a Thermos.

One of the inventors who helped Dewar to create the concept - Reinhold Burger - founded the brand in 1904, and it continues to operate to this day. But the name is also used for any container that keeps hot liquids warm.

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