Trading Names

It’s a regular occurrence in modern life – where a trade name becomes so commonplace it hijacks the product group or activity for which it was created and turns into a vowel. 

We’ve all done the “Hoovering” and when we want to search something online we’ll Google it. A brand will become so established we instantly recognise what someone is talking about when they use the term. 

In the world of large format print, clients and printers have adopted the term Foamex when referring to rigid foam PVC. It isn’t a brand name but a quick “Google” will bring up dozens of company’s advertising printing and converting services for Foamex. 

Trouble is, there is a product (made by 3A Composites) called Foam-X – a display board with a soft foam core and paper face material. Its light weight makes it great for short term interior signage such as hanging signs, but not for more permanent applications. Ironically 3A make two of the leading rigid foam board ranges in the UK – Foamalite and Forex, neither of which have been adopted as a means of describing rigid foam PVC. 

Now imagine a customer has called a printer wanting some boards: 

Printer: OK, and what sort of material do your boards need to be constructed from? 
Customer: 5mm Foamex please? 
Printer: 5mm Foam-X? 
Customer: Yes, 5mm Foamex 
Printer: Great, the price will be £### 

Using a brand name to describe a product group is usually done without any potential pitfalls. In the instance of rigid foam boards we have a word that’s evolved without any direct link to a brand and, phonetically at least, is the same as a brand name from a different product group.  

The industry seems to be comfortable with this arrangement, but the aforementioned pitfall is there lurking in the background. Indeed, a former employer once fell foul of this conundrum in the way described above. The client (on the phone) asked for Foamex (rigid foam) and the estimator quoted for Foam-X (soft foam). The job went ahead, was delivered, then reprinted on the intended material. A genuine misunderstanding for which the client (naturally) found the printer to be at fault and insisted they pick up the bill. 

The moral of this story? Well, if you were to ask me, I would advise using the term “rigid foam PVC” instead of Foamex, and “soft foam display board” instead of Foam-X. You could argue the use of Foam-X is justified – the product exists after all, but the term Foamex has become so endemic there would always be a risk of confusion.