“You don’t believe me? Bing it.”
That’s Daniel Dae Kim, lead actor of CBS’s hit TV series Hawaii Five-0, during an early episode in which he casually suggests to his partner that she “Bing” a query rather than “Google” it.
To many, the scene wasn’t jarring so much for its egregious product placement but for Kim’s laughably unrealistic dialogue. After all, few, if any, say they are going to “Bing” anything. Unlike Google, a brand and word synonymous with search, Microsoft’s rival engine has yet to enter our lexicon as a verb, despite CEO Steve Ballmer’s hope that it would. That “Bing” is not a verb reflects the huge challenge Microsoft faces in the space–the service has yet to make significant gains on king Google, which owns two-thirds of the U.S. search market. And now, it appears as if Microsoft has even given up trying to make “Bing” a verb that’s as much a part of our web-surfing habits as it is our vernacular.
“We don’t have an explicit strategy to go chase the verbiness,” says Adam Sohn, general manager of influencer marketing at Bing. “We don’t have that as a goal–like we’re not spending money [on it]. We’ve never tried to verb it.”
Of course, it’d be hard for Sohn to deny that Microsoft would love for “Bing” to be a verb just like “Google” is. The company has clearly spent money in the past on Bing product placement. Ballmer has said that he loves Bing’s potential “to verb up.” And even the tagline of its big new marketing campaign–“Bing It On,” a sort of Pepsi challenge for search–uses “Bing” as a verb, albeit as a pun.
Traditionally, companies have fought against what’s called “genericide” or “generification,” an industry term for when a brand name becomes so commoditized that it loses association with the company that first created it. Think: Aspirin, Band-Aid, Xerox, Frisbee. As Graeme Diamond, principal editor for new words at the Oxford English Dictionary, once told me, “Some companies aggressively resist generification…We don’t much care since we reflect language as it’s actually used–not as executives wish it were.”
But in the tech industry, most executives are happy to have their brands become verbs: to Google, to Facebook, to Netflix. And Bing higher-ups, which refer to Google as “the Kleenex of the search category,” have come to accept the fact that the verb “to Google” is here to stay. “I think we’re conflicted but happy if someone said ‘Google it’ but they were going to Bing and giving us the query,” says Sohn, who believes there is some benefit of Google’s genericide. “The thing about Kleenex is once you pull it out of the box, it looks exactly the same, whereas with online products, the brands are a bit more forward. So if you say, ‘I’m going to Google it,’ and you go to Bing–cause that’s what you have set as the default–over time, you’re going to understand the brand that you are using.”
Even internally, the verb “to Bing” is not standard. “Some people say the verb–sometime they say, ‘Hey, Bing this,'” explains Mike Nichols, corporate VP and chief marketing officer of Bing. “But it’s rare.”
In the coming months, Microsoft and its partners will begin to push out its new Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 operating systems, a big marketing effort that is likely to garner Bing some more attention. The company is also looking to strike more deals with third parties to include its search engine on their platforms, such as with the Kindle Fire HD, Amazon’s new flagship tablet, which will come with Bing by default instead of Google search.
Nichols says it’s still early in Bing’s life, at least too early to try to make Bing into a verb. “I don’t think we’re even ready to set it as an objective,” he says.
But one thing is for certain. In Redmond, Nichols says, “Nobody ever uses ‘Google it.'”
[Image: Flickr user Chandler Hummell]