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Don’t misspell your brand name

People were 34% more likely to buy from a startup if the brand name was grammatically correct (e.g. Lift) rather than creatively misspelled (e.g. Lyft).

Topics: Brand & Strategy | Messaging & Copy
For: B2C, B2B
Research date: February 2023
Universities: Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame & Fisher College of Business, The Ohio State University

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📝 Intro

Many startups use creatively misspelled names.

For example:

  • Lyft (instead of Lift)

  • Breakr (instead of Breaker)

  • Flyp (instead of Flip)

Sure, it makes it easier to trademark the name, and to find an available domain name.

But how does it affect how people perceive your brand?

And how likely they are to buy from you?

📈 Recommendation

Don’t use misspelled words in your brand or product name (e.g. Krush Kola, Phresh, Nite).

Stick to correctly spelled words (e.g. Crush Cola, Fresh, Night), unless you have a justification for your spelling that aligns with your messaging (e.g. Kimoji: Kim Kardashian’s emojis app)

A misspelled brand name will put people off from buying from you, especially if they don’t already know your brand.

🎓 Findings

  • People are less likely to choose or buy from brands that have misspelled names, vs names that are grammatically correct.

  • As part of a series of 8 experiments, researchers found that:

    • 13.6% more people chose a seltzer beverage when it was called “Clear” vs “Klear” (61.6% vs 48%)

    • People were 19.5% less likely to say they would download an app called “Daily Gainz” (vs “Daily Gains”)

    • People were 33.6% more likely to say they would buy a soft drink called “Fresh” (vs “Phresh”)

  • This effect disappeared when:

    • People were looking for a memorable experience from the purchase (e.g. drinks with friends, a team building event)

    • The company had a sincere motivation behind its unconventional name (e.g. the name was crowdsourced)

🧠 Why it works

  • When a brand does something unexpected, we make assumptions about why they might have done this.

  • When a brand misspells its name unusually, we assume it’s being done intentionally as a marketing tactic to persuade us, and a bad attempt to look cool.

  • This comes across as insincere, and we react negatively to the attempt to persuade us, and we’re less likely to buy.

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  • The research tested real (but unfamiliar) or made-up brands. It’s unclear whether people have the same perceptions with established brands (e.g. Lyft), including their sub-brands and brand extensions.

  • The effect probably does not apply to rebrands of existing well-known brands (e.g. PepsiCo’s rebranding of Mountain Dew to Mtn Dew in 2008).

  • The research looked at brand names in English, and the reaction of English speakers. It’s unclear if it would translate to other languages.

🏢 Companies using this

  • Misspelling brand names was one of the top brand naming trends for startups in 2021.

  • Many companies - especially startups - use unconventional spelling to try to distinguish themselves from their competition or to highlight key messages or selling points. For example: Starz, Lyft, Spyder, MVMT, Flickr, Tripp, and Phat Buddha. This probably backfires.

  • Expert brand powerhouses like Unilever or P&G don’t seem to use misspelled names for their brands.

Hilton’s midscale brand Tru by Hilton tries to play on “True” and build sincerity, but probably falls flat.

⚡ Steps to implement

  • In most cases, you’re better off choosing a brand name that is grammatically correct.

  • If you must use a misspelled name, make sure to explain why it’s misspelled across your marketing communication (e.g. it contains your name, it’s been crowdsourced), so that people understand it’s not an attempt to manipulate them.

  • Keep it short and easy to pronounce. People will perceive it as more trustworthy.

  • Use a feminine name to be perceived as warmer and more trustworthy.

  • If your company offers exciting experiences (e.g. amusement park), a misspelled name may work.

🔍 Study type

Lab and online experiments.

📖 Research

🏫 Researchers

  • John P. Costello. Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame

  • Jesse Walker. Fisher College of Business, The Ohio State University.

  • Rebecca Walker Reczek. Fisher College of Business, The Ohio State University.

Remember: This is a new scientific discovery. In the future it will probably be better understood and could even be proven wrong (that’s how science works). It may also not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.

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