James Swift

21 August 2023

Strategist’s Digest: Do misspelled names give brands a ‘lyft’? 

Contagious digests the most interesting and relevant research from the world of advertising and beyond, because there’s just too much to read and too little time

“Choozing” the Best Spelling: Consumer Response to Unconventionally Spelled Brand Names 

By John Costello, Jesse Walker, and Rebecca Walker Reczek. First published in the Journal of Marketing.

Give it to me in one sentence.

Marketers think misspelled brand names are edgy, customers often think they're off-putting.

Give me a little more detail.

The authors of this study wanted to know how people respond to brand names that subvert the spelling of familiar words, for instance, the taxi app ‘Lyft’, which is an obvious play on the word ‘Lift’.

So, they designed eight experiments to test whether people showed a preference for these kinds of brand names over their conventionally spelled alternatives.

For instance, in the first experiment, the researchers gave participants the choice between a seltzer called ‘Deep’ (the control option) and another drink, either called ‘Clear’ or ‘Klear’, and then recorded their preferences.

In another experiment, participants were asked to select the most appealing options from lists of pairs of real brands, some of which had conventionally spelled names, some of which had unconventionally spelled names, and some of which had had their unconventionally-spelled names corrected.

The headline finding was that consumers generally viewed unconventionally spelled brand names as less sincere, which had knock-on effects on their willingness to choose and buy those brands. But it was not always so. The researchers observed that participants were fine with unconventionally spelled names when they believed brands had chosen them for a sincere reason – eg, because it was selected by customers in a crowdsourcing exercise. Participants also did not penalise brands with unconventional spellings when didn’t have the time or capacity to think about the brand’s motives for choosing the name.

And in at least one situation, unconventionally spelled brand names were an asset. In one of the experiments, participants were more likely to choose the misspelled brand – a bar called the ‘Xtra Chilld Lounge’ – when they were told they were looking for a unique and memorable experience.

Why is this interesting?

There has long been a bit of a trend among startup companies for picking a brand name that subverts the traditional spelling of a word. Sometimes it’s the practical thing to do. Uniquely spelled words are easier to trademark, for instance. Other times it’s because marketers and founders think misspelled words are more exciting or distinctive.

And while previous studies have shown that unconventionally spelled brand names are more memorable, the authors’ conclusion here is that ‘unconventionally spelled brand names are often less effective at increasing consumers’ support for an unfamiliar brand’ because they are interpreted as an overt attempt at persuasion.

So, founders and marketers that want to give their brand an unconventionally spelled name face a trade-off, between memorability and perceived sincerity.

Any weaknesses?

The study was only conducted on English words, so there’s no information about the broader applicability of the findings. Also, all of the experiments were designed to test participants’ first impressions of a brand. So it may be that the effects disappear over time and multiple exposures.

Where can I find the whole report?

Here, but it’s not free.

This article was downloaded from the Contagious intelligence platform. If you are not yet a member and would like access to 11,000+ campaigns, trends and interviews, email [email protected] or visit to learn more.