I’m generally a pretty laid-back dude. But if there’s one personal pet peeve that takes the cake, it’s poor spelling and grammar use (especially by people who should really know better). This perfectionist vice now prompts me to face my frustration and attempt to discern the reasons behind why any self-respecting company would neglect the standards of written English or publish content littered with grammatical errors.
But, of course, there’s a method to the aforementioned madness. The misspellings I’ll be inspecting are deliberate, and utilized for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s the company’s name, their slogan, or simply the language used in their advertisements, there are a multitude of businesses who intentionally misuse the English language to their advantage.
This practice has long been a way to create a unique, identifiable brand association. Brands such as Lego and Spam have spent more than seven decades successfully building fictional terms to what are now well-known staples of American culture.
Now let’s take a look at a few of the better-known modern brands that are seemingly lacking dictionaries. Any individual not living under a rock will recognize Flickr, Tumblr, Reddit or Digg at first glance. These high-profile websites are all painfully close to their properly-spelled brethren, sharing one thing in common: the mysterious alteration of one letter.
But why have these sites all suffered the same tragic fate? Perhaps they’ve all neglected the spellcheck feature?
Well, not quite. The consequence is rooted in the advent of Web 2.0 and the nature of web domains. As anyone who owns a website would know, the domain name is purchased for rent from domain registrars. Once a particular word or phrase is claimed, it becomes unavailable to the rest of the cyber-verse until the renter stops paying the bills. So for a company starting up a photography database and networking site, the easiest way around negotiating with whoever owns “Flicker.com” is to drop a vowel and alternatively invest in “Flickr.com”.
This competitive loophole has now created a branding trend that is synonymous with the contemporary social media culture. The epoch of comprehendible website domains is vanishing, making way for strangely creative, often consonant-heavy titles.
(The screenshot above was taken from the expanded view of a share widget commonly found under blog posts.)
This phenomenon has a widespread effect, and as the universe of domain names blows up, it becomes increasingly difficult to register unique names within the parameters of the English language. Every day hundreds of thousands of domain names are registered and deleted, and according to dailychanges.com, there was a net growth of just under 11,000 registered names yesterday alone.
Exclusively web-based brands aside, there are other reasons why brands choose to enact unorthodox spelling and grammar outside of the concretely practical.
The one overarching piece of rationale behind silly spelling is the given business’s target demographic. No matter whom they are, a smart company is always going to focus their marketing and branding efforts on the types of people who will invest in their product or service.
For example, take businesses who market entirely to adults. California-based craft brewing company Lagunitas frequently accentuates the spelling of many of their products to create iconic, over-the-top names for their beers.
Images courtesy of Lagunitas Brewing Co.
This edgy, tongue-in-cheek lingo is targeted to the beer-drinking adults who purchase it. It meshes well with the general tone and attitude of the branding, aiming to evoke a lax, devil-may-care demeanor.
Linguistic oddities are found in the fine-print descriptions of the beers as well. Make-believe words such as “oregeny” and “nectaral” are nestled into the sassy banter that Lagunitas is now well-known for. To give you a better idea, here’s an excerpt from the Censored Copper Ale:
“The original name of this original ale was originally derived from an origin so heinous that we cannot reveal its aboriginal oregeny. Sorry. Actually, it’s an easy drinking malty Copper Ale that goes easy on the hops. Whatever.”
For those brands targeting the children’s market, silly or playful phrasing has a clear effect on how the product is perceived. Youth entertainment retailer Toys “R” Us creates its logo using a backwards “R”, simultaneously shortening the “are” and giving it a juvenile twist.
Image Courtesy of Toys R Us
The store began in 1948 as Children’s Supermart, and nine years later was transformed into Toys “R” Us. The practice of shortening words to letters is evidently nothing new, but it has certainly seen increased usage with the growth of mobile technology (i.e. texting lingo). It is somewhat ironic that a style associated with how children communicate is now such a prevalent trend in marketing to the technologically-savvy demographic as well.
But at the same time, children are becoming technologically-savvy in their own right. While kids’ entertainment is evolving, the higher-tech products are marketed to reflect this.
Webkinz is a stuffed animal brand founded back in 2005. They come in a variety of animals including common house pets, jungle animals and mythical creatures. But these furry friends have a special feature: each Webkinz toy has an interactive virtual doppelganger that is playable online.
Image Courtesy of Webkinz
Considering the concept behind the brand, Webkinz crafted its name to construe a virtual presence to buyers. It’s a creative jumble of words that evokes associations with the internet, friends, and the insatiably lame plural “z”.
But where many products use that silly “z” for the cliché playful touch, I believe that Webkinz implemented it for more practical purposes. The company that owns and produces the new-age stuffed animals is named Ganz and has been around since 1950 (much like Toys “R” Us). So the “z” seems to be more of a concern with branding consistency after all.
Whether it’s a matter of targeting a demographic, keeping branding consistent or simply saving headaches on domain name acquisition, brands frequently take creative reign on eccentric spelling use. What may be a copy editor’s nightmare is in fact a valuable marketing ploy in the world of business, and we can rest assured that it isn’t going anywhere.