As I’ve said before, quirky, “kree8tive” spellings do not facilitate trademark protection. But can a misspelled name help your brand rise to the top of search rankings?
Alas, no. And yet this myth persists among people who should know better.
I encountered both misconceptions—trademarkability and searchability—this week in a Brand New blog post about an e-book subscription service (with an introductory free plan) called Blloon. Not Balloon. Not Billion. Blloon.
The company is based in Berlin, but its target market is North America.
Armin Vit, the author of the Brand New critique, wrote:
Although I’m not a fan of the Flickr naming convention where vowels are removed gratuitously (while allowing for extra trademark-ability) there is something very charming about Blloon…
I left a comment correcting this statement (the trademark part, although I disagree with the charming part, too). My comment elicited a response from “mrwendel”:
Surely the biggest advantage to creative spelling of common words is searchability. Googling “balloon” versus “blloon” will yield different results.
Well, of course it will. But think about it. Why would anyone Google “blloon” except through typographic error? If you’re familiar with the company and have memorized its quirky spelling, you won’t need a search engine to find it. But if all you remember is “picture of a balloon” and “books,” you won’t find Blloon. You will find Balloon Books (publisher of kids’ books), BookBalloon (a blog), Red Balloon (a bookstore in St. Paul, Minnesota), Big Red Balloon (publisher of kids’ books), and Black Balloon Publishing (“the weird, the unwieldy, and the unclassifiable”). Just for starters.
If “Blloon” is meant to be pronounced “balloon”—and the company’s branding consultants say as much*—than the name enters an already cluttered brandscape. There is nothing distinctive about “balloon” in the world of books, e- or otherwise. And the word doesn’t earn search points for dropping a vowel.
That’s not all: In the real world your customers don’t use search the way you may imagine they do. (Neither do you, as a matter of fact.) If you’ve done a good job with PR, marketing, and social-media strategy, then they’re clicking a link to reach your site. Once they visit, their browser memorizes the URL and they’re spared having to retype it. If they’re searching blindly—for, say, free e-books—then your name won’t help unless it’s Amazon, Google, or Project Gutenberg. (By the way, when I searched for “free e-books,” Blloon did not appear anywhere on the first five pages of results.) You’ll need to bolster your searchability through markup and other programming tricks, or through paid advertising.
Meanwhile, here are some of the ways in which a misspelled name can damage your brand:
- It makes you look desperate. (You didn’t have the time to explore the full range of appropriate, distinctive names.)
- It makes you look cheap. (You didn’t have the budget for the real-word domain.)
- It makes you seem unworthy of customers’ trust. (If you can’t spell a common word, in what other ways will you disappoint?)
- It makes you appear illiterate. (In the book business in particular, this may be the kiss of death.)
- It tells customers that the real spelling was already taken by a more credible competitor. (Or, in this case, by many competitors.)
- It makes your brand harder, not easier, to find. (“Which letter did they drop—the A, the L, or the O?”)
I’m not saying that tweaked spellings are never appropriate. Cinergy worked for a Cincinnati energy company: it was a homophone of “synergy” that incorporated the first syllable of “Cincinnati.” Trix has been a successful cereal brand for almost 60 years; it sounds like “Tricks” (the original name of the brand’s rabbit mascot) while being shorter and snappier. (Never discount the X factor.) Successfully tweaked names are intuitive to pronounce and to spell.
Blloon, by contrast, no matter how artful its logo or stylish its web design, just looks like a spelling mistake. You might say it goes over like a lead balloon—for trademark and for searchability.
* From the branding agency’s project page:
“Working with a colleague in the Netherlands, we created a name that felt strange, and familiar at the same time. When pitching the name to the client the rationale was simple: ‘It’s a balloon without the “A”’.”