Capital Letters in the WrongPlace

A recent spate of rebranding in the staffing world has highlighted the trend of placing capital letters in the middle of brand names. What would traditionally be written as two words becomes conjoined in an abstract and distinctive new word. Witness the announcement this week that Albany Services is to become ClearPath Worforce Management and the quite recent evolution of Manpower Inc. to ManpowerGroup.

There is actually a name for this grammatical gimmick. Well, actually, there are a few different descriptions in common use; “Intercaps”, “Medial Capitals”, or “Camel Case” given the two bumps this makes in the structure of a word. Computer programmers and those living in Microsoft Land might also refer to it as “Pascal Case” from the Pascal programming language (FatalError!).

So what, I wonder is the point of it? What compels the brand consultant to mess with standard grammatical rules and how do they manage to persuade the CEO that it would be a good idea to flout convention in this way?

Of course, ClearPath and ManpowerGroup aren’t the only companies operating in the staffing space to adopt this modern branding style – in fact they are quite late to the game. ProcureStaff Technologies, WorkforceLogic, TrueBlue, AppleOne, HireGenics and ZeroChaos have already beaten them to the punch. Some have gone to additional extremes. IQNavigator goes one step further and throws in three capital letters while the grandaddy of American staffing, Kelly, has shown itself to be quite the fashionista by giving birth to the quatro-capitalised KellyOCG. Maybe we’re witnessing an arms race in the use of capital letters similar to what happened in the world of shaving – remember the day when one blade in a razor used to be perfectly adequate?

This also seems to be rather an American trend as it’s not anywhere near as prevalent in Europe. The UK IT staffing specialist, SThree, is one obvious exception. And German staffing suppliers seem to have jumped onto the bandwagon in a rather modest way with Amadeus FiRe, InAxtion and TimePartner. But other than these, I can’t think of any other examples. Maybe you can?

Medial Capitals only ever used to be seen in surnames and, even then, you had to be either Scottish, Dutch or Italian to participate as Messrs McDonald, VanDyke and DiCaprio would attest.

The use of Medial Capitals in brand names is a much more recent phenomenon although maybe not as recent as you might suspect. Where else would a trend start but in Hollywood? CinemaScope and VistaVision broke new ground in the 1950’s – both technologically and grammatically. AstroTurf was rolled out in the swinging Sixties but it wasn’t until the Internet Age that the stampede really began with the likes of CompuServe, WordPerfect, NetWare, MacWorks, QuickTime, PageMaker, PowerPoint, PlayStation, ThinkPad, BlackBerry, MySpace, YouTube and PayPal.

With Medial Capitals becoming popular for brand names in technology-related fields, it soon expanded into the mainstream; MasterCard, HarperCollins, IndyCar, DaimlerChrysler, PricewaterhouseCoopers, ExxonMobil, and GlaxoSmithKline. Not forgetting the cutting-edge SpongeBob SquarePants.

So again, you may ask yourself why? Why is MasterCard preferred over Master Card and ExxonMobil over Exxon Mobil? And does the consumer really care one way or the other? Presumably, the subliminal branding message is that a company with a Medial Capitalised brand is groundbreaking in some way – that they are modern and innovative. “Look at us - we use computers, not just a slide rule and an abacus.” It also adds a subtle edginess to the brand to suggest that it’s not quite mainstream - but in a modest way that won’t make you look too weird. The sartorial equivalent would be wearing a pair of fancy patterned socks under a sober business suit or having a very discrete tattoo.

For those of us working in (or researching) the staffing industry, keeping abreast of who uses which particular naming convention is becoming rather a minefield. Remembering which brands are two words and which are one is difficult enough without joining up words and throwing in random capital letters hither and thither. Another company that recently changed its brand name is Peopleclick Authoria to the more succinct ‘Peoplefluent’ [Note to self: It’s Peoplefluent and not PeopleFluent or People Fluent.]

Perhaps the use of Medial Capitals in brand names is just a passing fancy and, like most fashion whims will soon become as hip as a pair of flared trousers (or are they fashionable again?). However, we’re living in an age where the traditional rules of grammar are becoming increasingly unravelled. A younger generation reared on textspeak eschews ‘proper’ punctuation and correct spelling is less important than being able to respond quickly by way of acronyms and new styles of shorthand. Perhaps Medial Capitals are just the beginning and, in the future, the way we represent brand names will become even more radical. How long before we see Randstad replaced by ‘r&std’, Adecco by ‘+)))’ and the world of accounting and finance staffing shaken up by the emergence of ‘bob0.5’?

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