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Brand names: How and why does sonority impact perception?

Nom de marques. Comment communiquer l’action par la sonorité ? copy metamorworks
Published on
13 January 2021

A brand name is never neutral. Not only does it identify a product or service, but it also shares information thanks to its sound, regardless of the name’s meaning. A psycholinguistic study demonstrated that occlusive sounds such as the letters b, d, p and t suggest action and increase the attractiveness of a brand name for consumers.

"Our starting hypothesis is that motor actions are associated with automatic mental representations that are often unconscious. As a result, we hypothesized that the pronunciation of words with occlusive consonants such as b, d, p and t (as opposed to constrictive consonants like f, l, s and v) would suggest motor action due to the articulatory movement required to pronounce these letters. The effort made by the mouth to pronounce the name would therefore suggest action rather than passivity," explains Caroline Cuny, , a professor and researcher of cognitive psychology at Grenoble Ecole de Management.

"At the same time, social and cognitive psychology demonstrates that when an individual loses control due to an event, compensation strategies are activated in order to enable the person to act in the environment, even if the situation is in fact uncontrollable. Thus loss of control can lead someone to act in fields that are not necessarily directly tied to the situation that generated the feeling of loss of control."

Increasing the attractiveness of brand names

Caroline Cuny and Jamel Khenfer, a professor and researcher at Zayed University, College of Business (United Arab Emirates), started out by working on the following hypothesis: If a loss of personal control generates a preference for action, such situations should increase the attractiveness of brand names that inspire action.

Three studies were carried out in 2018: the first study used a panel of 85 young adults, the second relied upon 105 students, and the third surveyed 123 people in their twenties. "The results of these studies demonstrated that when young adults are faced with a loss of control in terms of their interaction with a brand (and therefore a sense of being unsatisfied), they prefer brand names with occlusive consonants instead of constrictive ones because the brand generates a stronger feeling of action that can take back control of the situation and thus reestablish a feeling of personal control."

Occlusive consonants: a guiding principle?

To automatically generate positive feelings or to help prevent negative feelings created by conflictual situations, a service or product can use occlusive consonants in the construction of its brand name in order to foster a sense of maintaining control. When creating a brand name, the idea is to encourage the use of occlusive consonants independent of the meaning behind the words. For slogans, the goal is to create phrases with the most occlusives in order to suggest stronger action.

"These studies open the door to new research that has yet to be explored. How sound is interpreted can offer a wealth of information to help in the creation of brand names, in particular for brand names that have no 'meaning' in semantic terms. It would be a pity to not take advantage of sounds, in particular when services delivered by a brand might not always be perceived as perfect by customers and these sounds can help support the customer relationship," concludes Caroline.

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