The use of unconventional spellings for brand names may backfire, reducing consumers’ willingness to support the brand, according to a recent study by the University of Notre Dame and The Ohio State University. The researchers argue that consumers perceive unconventional spellings as a deliberate persuasion tactic to influence their beliefs about the brand, damaging perceptions of the brand’s sincerity and ultimately reducing consumers’ support for the brand.
However, there are some advantages to using an unconventional spelling of a brand name, such as easier trademarking and finding related domain names, being more memorable, and conveying a trendy and cool image.
The Advantages of Unconventional Spelling
There are several advantages to using unconventional spelling for brand names:
- Distinctiveness: An unconventional spelling makes a brand name stand out and easier to trademark.
- Memorable: Unconventionally spelled brand names are more memorable than their conventional counterparts.
- Trendy Image: Unconventional spelling can convey an image of being trendy, cool, or young – traits associated with an exciting brand personality.
The Disadvantages of Unconventional Spelling
Although unconventional spelling has its advantages, there are some disadvantages that companies should be aware of:
- Overt persuasion attempt: Consumers perceive unconventional spellings as an overt persuasion attempt, which may damage perceptions of the brand’s sincerity and reduce support for the brand.
- Decreased support: Consumers support brands less when they use unconventional spellings compared to conventional spellings.
- Cognitive resources: Unconventional spellings 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.
- Sincere motive: 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).
- Positive effects: Consumers seeking a 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, the study provides valuable insights to marketers:
- Avoid unconventional spellings when naming new brands as doing so can decrease choice, purchase likelihood, and willingness-to-pay.
- Clearly communicate a sincere naming origin story during introductory marketing campaigns if using an unconventionally spelled name for a new brand.
- Communicate the sincere motive when designing brand elements such as logos, packaging, or slogans.
- 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.
- Consider the context where consumers are likely to be seeking memorable experiences before deciding to use unconventional spelling.
Choosing a brand name for a new product or service is one of the most important marketing decisions for a company. While unconventional spelling has its advantages, such as distinctiveness, memorability, and conveying a trendy image, it may also backfire and reduce consumers’ willingness to support the brand.
Companies should be cautious when deciding how to spell their brands and should consider the context where consumers are likely to be seeking memorable experiences before deciding to use unconventional spelling. Clear communication of a sincere naming origin story during introductory marketing campaigns and designing brand elements such as logos, packaging, or slogans with a sincere motive can help mitigate the negative effects of unconventional spelling.