Choosing a brand name for a new product or service is one of the most important marketing decisions for a company. This decision has short- and long-term consequences that impact consumers’ initial impressions of the brand and the likelihood that they will ultimately make a purchase.
One increasingly common strategy when naming a new brand is to use an unconventional spelling of an otherwise familiar word. For example, the brand name “Lyft” is easily recognized as an unconventional spelling of “Lift.” However, despite the prevalence of unconventionally spelled brand names, little is known about how this strategy impacts consumers’ inferences about and willingness to support a brand.
In a new Journal of Marketing study, we find that using an unconventional spelling may backfire, reducing consumers’ likelihood to support the brand. Our research suggests that firms launching new brands and the growing number of marketing agencies that specialize in brand naming should be cautious when deciding how to spell their brands. Consumers can infer unconventional spellings as a deliberate persuasion tactic to influence their beliefs about the brand, which in turn can damage perceptions of the brand’s sincerity and ultimately reduce consumers’ support for the brand.
Why Companies Choose Unconventional Spellings
There are some advantages that come from using an unconventionally spelled brand name. For example, it is easier to trademark and find related domain names for an unconventionally spelled brand name because of its distinctiveness. Prior research has shown that unconventionally spelled brand names are more memorable. Some observers have also proposed that brands use unconventional spellings to convey an image of being trendy, cool, or young—traits associated with an exciting brand personality.
However, we argue that despite these potential advantages, the use of an unconventional spelling may backfire. Across eight experimental studies, we demonstrate that consumers perceive the choice of an unconventional spelling for a brand name as an overt persuasion attempt. That is, consumers recognize that the brand name looks like a real word with which they are familiar, but they are also left to make inferences about why the brand’s spelling deviates from the original word. We argue that consumers infer that an unconventionally spelled brand name was chosen as a marketing gimmick or persuasion tactic, perhaps as a way to stand out from competitors or as an overt attempt to appear trendy, hip, or cool to certain segments of consumers. We find that viewing a brand’s name as a persuasion tactic leads to decreased perceptions of the brand’s sincerity and ultimately reduces consumers’ support for the brand. As a result, consumers support these brands less than if the brands used conventional spellings of the same words.
Consumers infer that an unconventionally spelled brand name was chosen as a marketing gimmick or persuasion tactic, perhaps as a way to stand out from competitors or as an overt attempt to appear trendy, hip, or cool to certain segments of consumers. We find that viewing a brand’s name as a persuasion tactic leads to decreased perceptions of the brand’s sincerity and ultimately reduces consumers’ support for the brand.
However, we also find that unconventionally spelled brand names are less likely to reduce support when consumers do not have the cognitive resources to think about the brand’s motives in choosing its name. Additionally, consumers do not respond negatively to unconventionally spelled brand names when they are told that the brand had a sincere motive for selecting the name (e.g., the unconventional spelling was the last name of the brand’s founder). Finally, we identify a context in which unconventionally spelled names have positive effects relative to their conventional counterparts. Specifically, consumers who are seeking a particularly memorable consumption experience are more likely to support a brand when it has an unconventionally spelled name than a conventional spelling, perhaps because the unconventional spelling itself can act as a memory marker for the event.
Lessons for Chief Marketing Officers
From a practical perspective, our work provides valuable insights to marketers:
- Managers may want to avoid unconventional spellings when naming new brands, as doing so can decrease choice, purchase likelihood, and willingness-to-pay.
- New brands using unconventionally spelled names should clearly communicate a sincere naming origin story during their introductory marketing campaigns.
- Brands could also communicate this sincere motive when designing brand elements such as logos, packaging, or slogans.
- However, our findings also suggest that the need to do the above is dependent on whether the brand is operating in a context in which consumers are likely to be seeking memorable experiences (e.g., destinations like Las Vegas).
- Finally, given the memory advantages of unconventional spellings, managers should also consider the cost–benefit trade-off between memory and perceptions of sincerity. Given that sincerity is a particularly important driver of many desirable brand outcomes, the increase in memorability that comes with an unconventional spelling may not be worth the accompanying decrease in perceptions of brand sincerity outside of consumption contexts where consumers are seeking a memorable experience.
Read the Full Study for Complete Details
From: John P. Costello, Jesse Walker, and Rebecca Walker Reczek, “‘Choozing’ the Best Spelling: Consumer Response to Unconventionally Spelled Brand Names,” Journal of Marketing.
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