Hold the Fone: Consumers Care About Proper Spelling

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By: Dr. James McFarland, People Scientist

Hello everyone! Welcome to our 100th CMO Minute. This week we will be talking about the importance of brand names, and how creating a successful name may not be quite as straightforward as one would think.

Consumers have always had a complex relationship with brand names, and rightly so, as those names play a crucial role in the all-important first impressions of a product or service. The goal in choosing a name has typically been to balance familiarity with novelty, and over the years, several companies have experimented with unconventional spellings to create unique, memorable, and successful brand names (e.g., Krazy Glue, and Lyft). However, a new study suggests that this strategy does not reliably predict a positive reception among consumers, and in fact may cause consumers to perceive the brand in an undesirable light.

A recent paper by Costello et al. finds that there are many cases where consumers are less likely to support unfamiliar brands when their names are spelled unconventionally rather than using the conventional spelling of the same word. Over a series of eight studies, the researchers discovered that consumers tend to prefer brands with conventionally spelled names. For example, consumers were significantly more likely to choose a product when its brand name was spelled “Clear” rather than “Klear,” or “Distilled” rather than “DSTLD.” In all the trials looking at consumer preference for products associated with unfamiliar brand names, the conventionally spelled brand names reliably outperformed their whimsical counterparts.

While somewhat surprising that the unique novelty of the names wasn’t better received, the studies’ follow-up surveys suggested that consumers perceived the unconventionally spelled names as an overt persuasion attempt by the marketer, and thus they viewed the brand as less sincere in its efforts to accurately inform the consumer about its products or services. In other words, consumers saw these unconventional spellings as a manipulative tactic, which led them to form a more negative perception of the brand.

This finding is significant because it challenges the common assumption that novel and unique brand names are always desirable. Instead, it suggests that while consumers do like novel and memorable brand names, they also have a deep desire for sincerity and authenticity.

This research shows that it is the motive behind choosing an unconventional spelling that plays the crucial role in how brands are perceived by consumers. When the brand’s motive is seen as sincere (such as having an unusual origin story or as highlighting a product’s unique or highly versatile application), unconventional spellings are less likely to produce a backfire effect. In fact, these are the cases where they may even be desirable, especially when consumers are seeking a memorable experience. For example, a company that sells energy drinks may choose an unconventional spelling for its brand name to emphasize the sense of excitement and adventure associated with its product. This would be entirely within the character of the product and aligns itself perfectly with consumers’ perceptions.

However, at the end of the day, marketers need to be careful when using unconventional spelling to ensure that their motive is seen as sincere. Consumers are savvy and can easily detect insincerity in brand names, which in turn, will have a negative impact on their willingness to support the brand.

In conclusion, the desire for novelty and sincerity in consumers’ perception of brand names is a complex interplay between the need for uniqueness and the need for authenticity. Marketers need to strike a balance between the two to create brand names that are both memorable and sincere reflections of the company behind them. Unconventional spelling may be a useful tool in creating memorable brand names, but it needs to be used with caution and sincerity to avoid a negative perception of the brand. Ultimately, consumers really want to feel that they can trust the brands they support, and marketers need to ensure that their brand names reflect that trust.

That’s it for this week! Join us next time for more psychology insights into the consumer mindset. And don’t forget to sign up for our next webinar, “How Tribal Psychology Drives Human Behavior,” on Tuesday, April 25th at 10:00 AM CDT! If you have any questions, give us a call (833-579-1905) or email us at [email protected].