When you want to know more about something, you Google it. When you need a ride, you Uber. These usages have infiltrated our language to a degree that they now sound unremarkable, but if you strain your memory, you may be able to think back to a time when Google and Uber were just a couple of proper-noun companies, and oddly named ones at that. Their journey to verbs unambiguously reflects their market dominance. So it’s easy to see why other brands are eager to get their verb on. Postmates, for example, recently introduced a new slogan: Postmate it.
If you don’t know Postmates, it’s one of those on-demand delivery apps, in the same category as Uber Eats, DoorDash, and so on—you essentially send someone to pick up something (often food) for you. The new ad campaign began in April, and, being a national effort, signage with the slogan now blares across billboards in Los Angeles and the New York City subway. The latter is where I’ve been staring at it for a few weeks now: “Your sweatpants are calling and they want a burger. Postmate it.” In late May, the company launched the second phase of the campaign, national TV ads wherein Martha Stewart intones, “Just Postmate it.”
Did you spot the problem yet? “Postmate it” is, I’m sorry to say, a grammatical nightmare. The company name is Postmates, so the verb form should be “Postmates it,” with an s at the end. This is eminently clear to me. If the rule is that we take the company name as the base form of the verb, I see no other way; the name, in this case, simply doesn’t change. I know “Postmates it,” with the s, also sounds somewhat awkward, and other conjugations of the verb even more so (I Postmates; you Postmates; he/she/it Postmateses[!?!]), but it’s the only proper way out of this linguistic morass, which, I admit, I have let drive me slightly crazy.
I decided to politely inform Postmates that the company’s national marketing campaign contained a fairly large error. A spokeswoman for the company emailed me back: “In developing the campaign, we worked with Mother LA [an advertising agency] to incorporate unique consumer insights and pair them with our lifestyle brand to come up with an entirely new idea that bridges food and technology while showcasing how Postmates has become a verb in pop culture. That’s why we decided to go with Postmate it.” Hmm. What does that mean, do you think? I followed up: But why no s? The spokeswoman then invoked something called a fleet: “We call our fleet Postmates (noun and plural) [and] when we say Postmate it, we use Postmate as a verb, not to confuse it with our fleet.” Fleet, I gathered, was the name for the people who delivered for Postmates? Still, I was no closer to getting anyone to admit that “Postmate it” is a blight on language.
Perhaps I needed some sort of authority to adjudicate the matter. I reached out to Emmy Favilla, BuzzFeed’s former copy chief and the author of A World Without Whom: The Essential Guide to Language in the BuzzFeed Age. In an email, she called the noun-to-verb transformation “a totally common linguistic trend” and said she generally doesn’t mind it. “I think it’s a linguistic shift that we should accept as common usage,” Favilla said. “Why use three words when you can use two?” A reasonable take. However, I soon found reason to doubt Favilla. She did not side with me on the “Postmate it” question. “I’ll be honest—I don’t think it sounds that weird!” she said. “I think it’s simply more sonically pleasing than ‘Postmates it.’ I also polled a few of the BuzzFeed copy editors and they agree!” Heretics, all.
I simply couldn’t accept this, so I sought out further counsel in the form of Nancy Friedman, a San Francisco Bay Area naming and branding consultant. She understood my gripe immediately: There was something off about the slogan.
Finally! Friedman said that in going back and forth between Postmates and Postmate, “the company is trampling on its own trademark.” Or as Denver-based trademark lawyer Jessica Stone Levy put it to me, “[One] principle of trademark law is that you don’t mutilate your own mark.” Vindication at last! “It’s just weird when the name is Postmates to suddenly see a singular form,” Friedman went on. “There is no Postmate company.” I could not agree more. Friedman said some of this weirdness owed to the company name itself: “It’s almost always a bad idea to make your name plural.” Not only does it confuse customers, it just doesn’t verbify well. Friedman also understood what may be the deeper problem with the slogan: Despite its claim that its coronation as an action word is already a done deal, Postmates is trying to kick-start its own verbification. “What they don’t understand is that you earn [it],” she said. “Google didn’t start out being a verb.”
This matter is now settled as far as I’m concerned. If I had it my way, “Postmates it” would triumph over “Postmate it,” scrubbing the latter from this earth for good. Of course, that’s not how it works in language: Ultimately, the people will decide. So far, if my favorite barometer of usage, Twitter, is any indication, consumers are going with … both. Now that’s brand identity.