The Sound of Brands

Jennifer J. Argo, Monica Popa, & Malcolm C. Smith
Journal of Marketing
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Executive Summary
Recently, marketing researchers have begun to explore strategies that companies may use to create effective brand names. Some naming strategies produce brand names that explicitly convey information about the product and/or its attributes (e.g., DieHard auto batteries). Other strategies may result in names that are not obviously connected to the product’s features. An example would be the use of sound symbolism, which focuses on the impact of the linguistic structure of brand names on consumer perceptions (e.g., Prozac communicates efficacy through the letter “z”). While research demonstrates that linguistic characteristics of brand names can cognitively affect product evaluations, the authors propose that affect may also be influential. For example, names such as Coca-Cola, Hubba Bubba, Tutti Frutti, Jelly Belly, Kit Kat, Bits & Bites, Lululemon, and Tostitos might elicit positive feelings, especially when the names are spoken aloud.

Across multiple brand names and product categories, the results of six experiments reveal that exposure to a brand name that has sound repetition in its phonetic structure (e.g., “temasema” and “sepsop”) and is spoken aloud produces positive affect, which favorably affects consumers’ brand evaluations, reactions to cross-selling, and product choice. To achieve this, the authors manipulate the brand name’s phonetic structure (i.e., sound repetition is present or absent in the name) and the method of expressing the brand name (i.e., it is spoken aloud or read silently). Moreover, they consider how individual differences in consumers’ ability to perceive repetitive patterns imparted by sound repetition influence the results and find that the effects hold only when a consumer is high in sensitivity to sound repetition. Finally, the authors demonstrate that the effects do not arise when consumers regulate their emotions (i.e., refrain from feeling any emotion) or when the sound repetition deviates too excessively from linguistic expectations (i.e., there are too many consecutive consonants in the brand name; e.g., ranthfanth). The article concludes with a discussion of implications related to brand naming, advertising and promotions, and product portfolio and cross-selling.

Jennifer J. Argo is Associate Professor of Marketing in the School of Business at the University of Alberta. Her research interest primarily focuses on situational influences in consumption. Her research has been published in Journal of Marketing, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, Psychological Science, and Journal of Consumer Psychology. Professor Argo teaches marketing strategy to undergraduate students and consumer behavior to doctoral students. Both her research and her teaching have been acknowledged through her membership on the editorial board for Journal of Consumer Research, selection to attend the Marketing Science Institute’s Young Scholars Program, and being awarded the BSA undergraduate teaching award. She has been a visiting professor at Duke University and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Monica Popa completed this research during her doctoral program in marketing at the University of Alberta. She will be joining the Edwards School of Business faculty at the University of Saskatchewan in summer 2010. Her research interests focus on social and linguistic influences on consumer behavior, social responsibility, and the interplay of affect and cognition in consumption decisions. Monica Popa has been nominated the American Marketing Association/Sheth Doctoral Consortium Fellow representing the University of Alberta and has received the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Doctoral Fellowship from the Canadian Government, the President’s Doctoral Prize of Distinction from the University of Alberta, and the School of Business Teaching Award from the University of Alberta.

Malcolm C. Smith is Associate Professor of Marketing in the I.H. Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba. His research examines differences in emotional reactions, memory, and learning between older and younger adult consumers. Dr. Smith has been associate dean (Research and Graduate Programs) in the Asper School of Business as well as the director of the Asper School’s International Student Exchange Program. Currently, Dr. Smith is the head of the Department of Marketing. He has been a visiting professor at the L’viv Institute of Management (Ukraine), the University of Oregon, and Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand. Dr. Smith received his BSc (Hons.) and MBA from Queen’s University and his PhD from the University of Oregon.

Journal of Marketing, Volume 74, Number 4, July 2010
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Jennifer J. Argo, Monica Popa, & Malcolm C. Smith
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