Entrepreneurs should learn to spell before they try to sell

Entrepreneurs should learn to spell before they try to sell
(Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)
  • Meaningless marketing campaigns cost Australians billions of dollars each year, positioning and repositioning businesses to the point of disorientation.
  • From the largest bank in the country to the youngest start-up, Australian companies need to ditch the gobbledygook and get back to business.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

This week, buy now, pay later company Zip announced ‘a global rebrand’, apropos of nothing. 

The announcement, laden with buzzwords and dripping with pomposity, amounted to little more than an unveiling of a new corporate logo. One the $4 billion company didn’t need and for which it doubtlessly paid too much. 

Naturally it required its own campaign message.

“We’ve been driven by the belief that if we help people be in control of their tomorrow, they can live fearlessly today,” CEO Larry Diamond said.

What does that sentiment even mean? Is ‘live’ a synonym of ‘spend’? And when did taking on debt become a form of empowerment? 

But any concerns the brand might be encouraging frivolous shopping are quickly assuaged as Zip’s marketeers state that the new brand has “responsibility built into its DNA”.

Thank God for that because outside of genetics, the entire BNPL sector is governed by little more than a voluntary code of conduct and its own gracious sense of goodwill.

You’d be forgiven at this point for thinking the branding exercise was to make up for the fact that Zip didn’t have anything else to announce this week

Instead we got a new 2-dimensional logo, or as the company would put it, “a powerful reflection of Zip’s commitment to people and partners”.

But as funny as the hyperbole is, it is the creative agency behind the campaign, Koto, that really must be laughing. All the way to the bank.

“A small word with a big job. Koto’s approach to rebranding Zip was directly informed by the attitude and culture of the company: elbows out, punching above its weight, fearlessly taking on the rigidity of the ways-we-pay with a people-first focus.”

Who are these people? Art majors? 

Banksy once said, “the thing I hate the most about advertising is that it attracts all the bright, creative and ambitious young people, leaving us mainly with the slow and self-obsessed to become our artists.”

Well, it seems the latter group have well and truly infiltrated the marketing department now.

Can-do marketing

Zip just happens to be the most recent example of rebranding for the sake of it, rather than the most ridiculous.

That dubious honour would perhaps go to the Commonwealth Bank. Last year it decided against all sound judgement to make the most minor of changes to its own iconic 30-year-old logo. 

The ‘transformation’ — dropping a sliver of black from its yellow logo — was inspired to reflect Australia’s “can-do attitude” and be “a symbol of optimism fit for the future”.

Of course. It’s so obvious! 

And yet without the explanatory note, it sure would have looked a lot like making over a farm animal — pointless and needlessly messy. That’s not to mention an absolute waste of time and money redoing branding throughout the largest branch network in the country. In the middle of a pandemic no less.

Wasteful spending on superficial messaging was once the sole domain of the public sector. But meaningless marketing has well and truly escaped into the real world, making it sometimes feel if we’re all trapped inside an episode of Utopia. 

Once considered the sole affliction of Silicon Valley, Australia shut its borders too late to keep the country safe from such corporate hubris.

A fool by any other name

A founder recently told me a story. His company paid a lot of moolah to a creative agency to come up with a name. After several weeks, these brainiacs came back with half a dozen suggestions, each more ridiculous than the last, while criticising any sensible alternative. 

The well-funded start-up ended up giving the agency the flick and their middle-aged accountant thought of the new name that afternoon. A clever pun to boot!

But most companies foolishly ignore Jenny from accounts as a decent barometer of public opinion. Instead they judge the philosophy grad, who spent their formative years snorting lines off the cover of ‘The Republic’, as being more in touch with the zeitgeist. 

This is the problem billion-dollar start-ups everywhere now face.

You give a blank cheque to a business that doesn’t actually produce anything, and you end up with the kind of exorbitant marketing budget required to validate its very existence.

If you want a crash course in bad creative decisions, see the fintech industry which is positively paved with them.

There are 86,400 seconds in a day. That’s a great fact, but a terrible name for a neobank.

As is Xinja, a brand no one can spell, much less recommend to their friends — possibly one factor behind its eventual demise

Or Douugh, a banal attempt at putting ‘u’ at the centre of a business model.

But the list goes on, and on, and on. 

At some point in the mid-2000s, California’s tech scene decided to wage a war on secondary vowels, leaving a legacy from which we have never really recovered.

There’s a Wisr for example, and a Prospr, and when I try to search for either online, search engines ask me if I’m feeling alright. Honestly, I’m not sure anymore.

Curiously, closer to home, there’s also a Prospa, which suggests the problem may have been with the letter ‘e’ rather than vowels more generally, but further investigation is still required.

In the same vein, there’s an entire subgenre of company names that can simply be summed up as ‘misspelt’.  

Warrp. Butn. Fairbanc. Pelikin. To name but a few.

Then there’s one whole cohort which makes you ask, why ‘y’? 

Slyp, Symple, and Rapyd makes you wonder, ‘when did ‘i’ become so taboo?’ Or will angel investors not give money to anyone who can spell? 

Some resemble a drunken alphabet soup (Airwallex) while others still are just a bad play on words. For the record, Payoneer should be the punchline to a Christmas cracker, not a contender for seed funding.

My one piece of advice to the next generation of budding entrepreneurs is simply this. The next time you’re brainstorming a new business, take out your phone and type the name into it.

If autocorrect can’t make sense of it then no one else ever will.