Poor Zamboni. The California maker of ice resurfacing machines—the ones that swoop around the hockey rink after each period—has a brand so strong that most people have simply assumed that’s what the tractor-like vehicles are actually called. In fact, the word “Zamboni” is even listed in the dictionary. It’s a burden that’s also borne by the makers of Kleenex tissues and Chap Stick lip balm, which also enjoy top-of-mind brand awareness for their products, drastically reducing the need to spend millions on marketing.
But even such enormous competitive advantages can occasionally have unintended, unwelcome side effects. Zamboni lashed out at media outlets who mistakenly reported that delays in Olympic speed skating events were because of broken “zambonis.” That wasn’t technically true—the machines in question were Olympias, made by Ontario-based rival Resurfice Corp., which outbid Zamboni for the contract. “It was widely reported that these machines were Zamboni machines, which in fact they were not,” Zamboni said in a recent statement, adding that it had “deep concern” about the negative portrayal of its brand.
While it’s understandable that Zamboni wants to clear up the confusion given the high-profile nature of the Games (although it did benefit from positive coverage when an actual Zamboni was shipped in from Calgary to save the day), the company is walking a fine line between protecting its valuable brand name and creating a popular backlash. Zamboni appeared to tread close to the edge with a letter to the Calgary Herald in which the company lectured the newspaper on the difference between adjectives and nouns (They claim Zamboni is a “capitalized adjective”). A similar lesson was given to Jalopnik, a popular automotive blog covering what some have called the Zambonigate fiasco. Their response? “Relax, having your brand synonymous with the product you’re selling is a positive.”