Misspelled Brand Names: Pro Or Con?

Lyft, Tumblr, and Reddit are some examples of 21st Century brand names. But do these names make the right impression?

John Costello, assistant professor of marketing at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, isn’t too sure. In several studies, Costello and his team found that using an unconventional spelling for a real word decreased its selection by 12%-14%. There’s also a backfire effect to using such brand names, since some consumers are  turned off by them.

Does that mean you should stick with conventional spellings for brand names? Well, there are only so many to go around. Marketing Daily talked with Costello about these unconventional brand names. Below are excerpts of the conversation, edited for clarity and length.

Marketing Daily: There are a lot of  purposely misspelled brand names today. What’s the downside of using these brand names?



John Costello:  Basically, consumers see it as sort of a marketing gimmick. And as a result, they view the company as being less than sincere.

Marketing Daily: Is this a new development in the 21st century?

Costello: Yeah, I think so. In fact, if you think of names like Kool-Aid, we don't even register that as an unconventional spelling of a real word. It's more just like, oh, that's Kool-Aid.

There's a literature in in marketing called persuasion knowledge, which is basically that  people have sort of common-sense theories of how they're being persuaded.  Consumers might think of this [misspelled name trend] as a fairly recent development, but they also might recognize this is a tactic that's been used by brands with a particular goal: You're cool or exciting or trendy to consumers.

Marketing Daily: Wasn’t this happening, say, 30 years ago too?

Costello: People have experiences in the marketplace where they learn that brands are using particular strategies to try to persuade them, and that does change over time. So if that doesn't exist in the marketplace, and people don't have that knowledge, they may not think of it kind of as being that sort of gimmick or persuasion tactic.

Marketing Daily: What about foreign brand names?

Costello: For those brands, there’s a whole other set of issues. Foreign words don't have meaning associations with them for English speakers, There also might just be psychological fluency issues -- just your ability to understand how to pronounce it and read it is also another challenge. So that goes a little bit outside of our research, but those are definitely challenges for those types of brands.

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