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Why Product Names Matter

Consumers subconsciously associate unpronounceable product names with danger.

(originally published by Booz & Company)

If It’s Difficult to Pronounce, It Must Be Risky: Fluency, Familiarity, and Risk Perception

Hyunjin Song and Norbert Schwarz 

Psychological Science, vol. 20, no. 2

Date Published: 
February 2009

What’s in a name? Quite a bit, according to the authors of this paper, who found that consumers subconsciously consider difficult-to-pronounce names — Hnegripitrom, for example — to be risky or dangerous to their health. The authors conducted a series of studies in which students ranked a list of names, which they were told were either food additives or amusement park rides. The food additive group was given a list of 16 words, each composed of 12 letters; some were easy to pronounce and others were far more difficult (e.g., the aforementioned Hnegripitrom). For amusement park rides, the authors used a set of Native American names that ranged from short and simple (Chunta) to long and tricky (Vaiveahtoishi). In both groups, the participants considered the names that were harder to say as more risky. The authors conclude that when companies are trying to promote products as easy to use or safe, marketers should come up with names that roll off the tongue. But for marketers looking to promote a product that will entice thrill seekers, such as an amusement park ride, a longer, more esoteric name could help make the product more appealing to consumers. 
Bottom Line:
Consumers may subconsciously associate unpronounceable product names with danger, which has implications for marketers.


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