Why do some businesses deliberately misspell words—such as korner or xtreme? We ask an expert.
Irvin Kaage, 81, center standing, and his son Mike Kaage, 52, center seated, at their 66-year-old Kaage's Korner newsstand on Oliphant Avenue and Northwest Highway. (Tribune file photo by Michael Tercha)
So why would an establishment intentionally bill itself as spelling-averse? (Kustom Kuts, Kozy Korner, Tastee Freez, to name a few.)
Sure, there's the occasional trademark to work around. ("What do you mean Tasty Freeze is already taken? What about Tastee Freeze? Or, oh! Tastee Freez!") And the signage to consider. (Kustom Kuts lends itself to a scissors logo much more readily than Custom Cuts.) But beyond such logistics, misspellings actually do a bit of heavy lifting, marketing-wise.
"There's a lot of trickery involved in the way grammar is used in advertising," says Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, Chief Strategy Officer at Leo Burnett ad agency. "You're trying to differentiate yourself. You're trying to be part of the lexicon. You're trying to be part of popular culture."
And in the minds of consumers, Hahn-Griffiths says, flawed spelling doesn't equal a shoddy product.
"Look at La-Z-Boy," he says. "Everybody knows that's not the way you spell lazy, but it's one of the most powerful furniture companies there is. It's an attempt to connect with the vernacular and the way people speak."
A misspelled name works, he says, if it does one or more of the following:
• Helps with recall. "You want people to remember your name in an easy and anecdotal way. It's this cognitive dissonance thing that makes you remember it because it's just weird."
• Sets you apart. "Maybe you're doing something with your name to make people think you're better or different than other hair dressers, garages, cafés."
• Gets people talking. "At the end of the day you want to become part of the lexicon. It gets people talking about you, so you become part of the vernacular."
•Works as an onomatopoeia. "There's some kind of double entendre association based on the misspelling." (Onomatopoeias are those words that imitate the sound they represent: buzz, kerplunk, etc.)
Consider license plates as a point of comparison.
"License plates are a way for people to represent themselves as brands," says Hahn-Griffiths. "A marketing statement about who you are and what you stand for. And you've got six characters to work with."
So spelling, oftentimes, takes a backseat to messaging.
Democratic Underground, a lefty web site that's fun to peruse on occasion, once conducted an online poll asking, "Which kind of intentional misspelling (ticks) you off more?" (Though they didn't say "ticks.") The choices were:
Faux-urban misspelling: Using "z" in place of "s," "da" instead of "the," and "dogg" or "dawg" instead of "dog."
Xtreme misspelling: Using "x" is place of "ex," as in "Xtreme" or "Xtra."
Country misspelling: Using "k" in place of "c," as in "kountry" or "korner."
Faux-urban won handily, with 47 percent of the vote. Xtreme came in last, at just 2 percent.
Food for thought when you're designing your next business — or license plate.