What's in a Misspelled Name?

What's in a Misspelled Name?

"It's not an acronym, so we aren't capitalizing it!"

That was the battle cry barked out by my copy editor in early 2002, as she struggled with the prevalence of Mini being spelled as "MINI" on everything from advertisements to corporate press releases to editorial content in various automotive publications. At the time I saw this as simply a not-so-creative way for Mini to stand out. And whether the name is seen in a long list of automakers or as text on a page full of text, there's no denying that the word "MINI" tends to catch your eye, especially if it's repeated several times in a single paragraph (and also assuming the rest of the paragraph's text isn't in all caps, too). Besides, you could argue that Mini makes such small cars it needs to make a big statement with its brand's spelling.

But how does that explain Hummer — spelled in all official references as "HUMMER"? Again, the corporate answer from Hummer reps might be something like, "These cars are so big and imposing it requires all-caps spelling of the brand's name to do them justice."

Yeah, whatever. I prefer to call it yet another scrape at the bottom of the barrel of marketing creativity. I think Audi was the first to get "creative" with capitalization when it introduced the Audi allroad quattro in 2001 and refused to use capital letters — even on the car's badges. In contrast to the Mini/Hummer thinking, Audi decided that the inevitable "Why aren't the 'a' and 'q' in 'allroad quattro' capitalized?" might just make it stick in people's minds. How this contributes to sales I'm not sure. Personally, my feeling every time I saw the name was, "So is that car such a disappointment it's not worthy of capital letters?"

Scion raised the practice of improper capitalization to an art form when it entered the market in 2004 with the xA and xB. It has since added the tC. How does using an acronym where only the second letter is capitalized contribute to a car's desirability? I'm not sure, but considering the target audience maybe Scion thinks it's hip and cool in an "I'm-so-edgy-I-can-break-all-convention-in-model-naming-and-still-be-successful" sort of way. If sales numbers are any indication, the overlords at Toyota obviously know more than I.

But while creative capitalization is simple-minded marketing at worst, the things going on at Mazda are just plain disturbing. Of course I'm talking about the Mazda 6…which technically is the Mazda MAZDA6…unless we're talking about the performance version, in which case it's the Mazda MAZDASPEED MAZDA6. No, I'm not making this up. The technical name of the performance version of Mazda's midsize sedan is the Mazda MAZDASPEED MAZDA6. How has this company bastardized the English language? Let us count the ways. In just one model name it has managed to be annoyingly repetitive while also displaying capitalization infractions at a capital level. And don't forget the lack of spacing between the model name and number, though in this context it's easy to miss. And yes, this same naming convention applies to the Mazda MAZDA3 and the Mazda MAZDA5.

Does Mazda really expect people to use this naming convention? Imagine if you will the following conversation:

Mark: "So Bob, what did you and the wife decide on?" Bob: "We went with the new Mazda MAZDA5. We looked at the Mazda MAZDA3, and the Mazda MAZDA6. Heck, we even considered the Mazda MAZDASPEED MAZDA6, but the Mazda MAZDA5 just seemed like the best vehicle for my family's needs."

Suddenly, dropping the name "Miata" seems like a minor infraction.

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