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Why the Sound of a Brand Name Matters
By: Fast Company
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The sound of a word like "knife" or "truck" seems totally arbitrary—it’s just a random sound we’ve assigned to a thing, right? But for several decades, scientists have found good evidence that the sound of words have meaning in a very real way. Sound can convey subtle information about traits such as size, shape, smoothness, and also, according to a new study in Cognition, distance. This suggests that while the sound of company and product names—Lyft, Smuckers, Nike—may seem meaningless, it may actually quietly shape consumers' perceptions.

This is what’s called "sound symbolism"—the theory that there’s an intrinsic meaning we unknowingly attach to certain speech sounds. Sound symbolism is probably best illustrated by a well-known study from 1929 by the renowned linguist and anthropologist Edward Sapir. In his experiment, Sapir had people assign two fake words—"mil" and "mal"—to either a larger or smaller table. And what he found was pretty astonishing: The majority of participants called the smaller table "mil" and the larger table "mal." Since Sapir made up the words "mil" and "mal," he concluded that people inferred word meaning from the sound.

These associations aren’t limited to English—scientists have found them across many different languages. For example, most languages use a front-vowel sound (like "ee" in feet) for words that mean something is little—tiny, petitpiccoloklein. And for words that indicate something large, languages tend to use back-vowel sounds, (like "oo" in food or "ah" in bought), like grand or grande—just like Sapir found with the mil and mal tables. "This is an automatic judgment that people make—they’re doing it non-consciously," explains Eric Yorkston, an associate professor of marketing at Texas Christian University, who wasn’t involved in the Cognition study. His own research on sound symbolism has shown, for instance, that when people hear the brand name of a food, it changes how it tastes. He found in a study that people who were told an ice cream is named "frish" think it tastes lighter and has fewer calories, while an ice cream called "frosh" tastes creamier, smoother, and richer (even though the ice cream people tasted was actually the same).

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This article was published on Fast Company. A link to the original piece appears after the post. www.fastcompany.com
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