What Makes a Product “Sound” Good?

Martin Lindstrom’s new book, Brandwashed, comes out later this month, but it won’t contain everything about the way  our buying decisions are influenced by unconscious factors. A new study by Michael Vitevitch and Alexander Donoso reveals that the sound of a brand name can affect our purchasing decisions:

In the present experiment we examined how phonotactic probability—the frequency with which phonological segments and sequences of segments appear in a word—might influence consumer behavior. Participants rated brand names that varied in phonotactic probability on the likelihood that they would buy the product. Participants indicated that they were more likely to purchase a product if the brand name was comprised of common segments and sequences of segments rather than less common segments and sequences of segments.

The propensity to buy brands with names composed of more common sounds mirrors earlier research in which people rated products that were hard to pronounce as riskier or more dangerous.

From a purely scientific standpoint, the paper is important because it demonstrates that objective measures of pronunciation can affect higher order cognitive processes.  From a more practical standpoint…well, maybe it means you should give some more consideration to that Hungarian tartar sauce you always decide not to buy because it just doesn’t look right.

Vitevitch MS, & Donoso AJ (2011). Phonotactic probability of brand names: I’d buy that! Psychological research PMID: 21870135


Should We Use Heuristics?

In psychology, heuristics became associated with errors and contrasted with logical and statistical rules that were believed to define rational thinking in all situations. Yet this view has been questioned for uncertain, large worlds where the assumptions of rational models are not met. We reviewed studies on decisions by individuals and institutions, including business, medical, and legal decision making, that show that heuristics can often be more accurate than complex “rational” strategies. This puts heuristic on a par with statistical methods and emphasizes a new ecological question: In what environment does a given strategy (heuristic or otherwise) succeed?

That’s Gerd Gigerenzer and Wolfgang Gaissmaier in the most recent issue of the Annual Review of Psychology.