Brand Name a La Francaise ? Oui, But For the Right Product!

France Leclerc, Cornell University
Bernd H. Schmitt, Columbia University
Laurette Dube-Rioux, Cornell University
ABSTRACT - In two experiments we demonstrated that a French pronunciation of a brand name is liked better for hedonistic products, while an English pronunciation of a brand name is liked better for utilitarian products. Moreover, in the case of hybrid products possessing both hedonistic and utilitarian features, a French pronunciation of a brand name draws attention to the hedonistic aspects of the product, while an English pronunciation highlights utilitarian aspects of the product. The results are interpreted in terms of associations between product features and social stereotypes about French and American culture.
[ to cite ]:
France Leclerc, Bernd H. Schmitt, and Laurette Dube-Rioux (1989) ,"Brand Name a La Francaise ? Oui, But For the Right Product!", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16, eds. Thomas K. Srull, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 253-257.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 16, 1989      Pages 253-257

BRAND NAME A LA FRANCAISE ? OUI, BUT FOR THE RIGHT PRODUCT!

France Leclerc, Cornell University

Bernd H. Schmitt, Columbia University

Laurette Dube-Rioux, Cornell University

ABSTRACT -

In two experiments we demonstrated that a French pronunciation of a brand name is liked better for hedonistic products, while an English pronunciation of a brand name is liked better for utilitarian products. Moreover, in the case of hybrid products possessing both hedonistic and utilitarian features, a French pronunciation of a brand name draws attention to the hedonistic aspects of the product, while an English pronunciation highlights utilitarian aspects of the product. The results are interpreted in terms of associations between product features and social stereotypes about French and American culture.

Researchers and managers intuitively recognize the importance of brand name selection and its effects on brand attitudes and brand image. It has been suggested, for example, that the brand name assigned to a new brand of a consumer product may account for more than 40 percent of its success or failure (Zaltman and Wallendorf, 1979), and it has been demonstrated empirically that brand names are an important source of information for evaluating the quality of a product (Jacoby et al., 1971; Park and Winter, 1979). What strategies then can managers employ in selecting a brand name and how do these strategies work?

Most of the literature on brand name selection has been based on intuitive rules-of-thumb. For example, Collins (1977) proposed that a brand name should be unique, short, suggestive of the product, distinctive, and pronounceable in several languages. A list of similar characteristics can be found in most marketing textbooks (e.g., Kotler, 1988; Engel, Blackwell and Miniard, 1986). There also has been some empirical research on brand name effectiveness. Kanungo (1968) found that the more meaningful the brand name, the better the recall associated with the name. However, meaningfulness affected brand name recall only when names did not easily fit the product category. Robertson (1987) examined the effect of "high vs. low imagery brand names" and found that high imagery brand names were easier to recall across a variety of product categories. Peterson and Ross (1972) tested whether consumers would associate certain words or sounds with particular product categories. They found that certain words were more reminiscent of cereal brand names and others were more likely to remind consumers of detergents. In other words, consumers seem to possess a preconceived notion of how product category words should sound, and they seem to respond positively if there is congruence between brand name and product class. Finally, Mehrabian and De Wetter (1987) proposed that any products convey a wide range of connotations to consumers and that product appeal can be enhanced by selecting a name that conveys a desirable subset of these connotations. In support for their theoretical model, they found that discrepancies between the ideal set of emotional connotations for 2 product (e.g., pleasure, arousal, dominance) and the connotations actually implied by a given product name could significantly predict product preferences.

In our research, we studied another factor that may influence the perception of a product, namely the way a brand name is pronounced. It was hypothesized that the liking of a brand name and the perception of a product would change as a function of pronouncing the brand name in English or French.

Research in sociology, anthropology, and cross-cultural psychology has provided ample evidence for the existence of national and cultural stereotypes (cf. Peabody [1985] for a review). National and cultural stereotypes may be defined as beliefs that varioUs traits are predominantly present and therefore characteristic of a particular nation or culture. The stereotype of the French, for example, includes, among other things, the belief that French people are distinguished from many other nations by t,heir aesthetic sensibility and good taste (Peabody, 1985; Peyrefitte, 1976; Pitts, 1963). Practicality and a utilitarian/economic orientation, on the other hand, are commonly associated with American culture (Peabody, 1985). It is hard to say whether such beliefs are merely based on social stereotypes or whether they contain a kernel of truth. It has been suggested, for example, that as a remnant of the Protestant ethic, which was central to traditional American values Americans are indeed more practical people. In either case, people living in a particular culture seem to share relatively clear-cut beliefs about traits of individuals in different nations and cultures.

In selecting a brand name and having this brand name pronounced in a certain way (e.g., in television and radio commercials), managers can make effective use of the national and cultural beliefs and stereotypes that consumers hold. As Bodenhausen and Wyer (1985) have shown, stereotypes frequently seem to function as judgmental heuristics in interpreting the environment. Thus, if a brand name is pronounced with a foreign accent, the cultural stereotype associated with the accent should be activated and consumers might form a stereotype-based impression of the product. As a result, they will judge the appropriateness of the brand name for a part culture product category based on the beliefs associated with the brand name and features of the product category. For consistency reasons, they should like a brand name better if there is congruence between the stereotype and certain product features. For example, an English pronunciation of a brand name of a utilitarian product (e.g., foil wrap or gasoline) may receive a more positive evaluation by consumers than a French pronunciation of the same brand name. Conversely, a French pronunciation of a brand name may be more effective for hedonistic products (c.g., fashion jewelry or bubble bath) where an English pronunciation maw fail. This is because the french pronunciation of the brand name will activate beliefs about French culture which are congruent with the sensory and imaginary features of a hedonistic product but incongruent with the functional qualities of a utilitarian product. An English pronunciation, on the other hand, should produce the opposite effect. Moreover, in the case of mixed or "hybrid products" possessing both hedonistic and utilitarian features, a French pronunciation of the brand name may highlight the hedonistic aspects of the product, while an English pronunciation of the brand name may highlight the utilitarian aspects of the product.

These two hypotheses were tested in two experimental studies. In Experiment 1, subjects provided liking ratings of brand names of utilitarian and hedonistic products. The brand names were pronounced both in French and in English. In Experiment 2, subjects were presented with brand names of hybrid products, which had both utilitarian and hedonistic aspects. The brand names were pronounced either in French or in English. Subjects were asked to indicate their perceptions of each product in terns of its utilitarian vs. hedonistic characteristics. In addition, subjects indicated how much they liked each brand name for a particular product and how expensive they thought the brand might be.

PRETEST

Prior to the two experiments, a pretest was conducted in which 20 business school students served as subjects. Subjects rated 18 products on two seven-point scales: (1) the degree to which the product possessed utilitarian features ("not at all -- very much") and (2) the degree to which the product possessed hedonistic features ("not at all -- very much"). Before providing their ratings, subjects read a brief paragraph in which they were told what the researchers meant by "utilitarian" and "hedonistic" products. Specifically, subjects read: "Some products are usually described in terms of the functional benefits they provide or uses they serve. These products are called utilitarian. Other products are usually described in terms of the pleasure associated with their use. These products are called hedonistic.' in addition, examples of both types of products were provided.

On the basis of their extreme ratings on the two scales and their low standard deviations, eight products were selected for Experiment 1. Four of the products (foil wrap, screwdriver, gasoline and light bulb) had high ratings on the utilitarian scale (all Ms > 6.4) and low ratings on the hedonistic scale (all Ms < 1.5). Four other products (fragrance, nail polish, bubble bath and fashion jewelry) had low ratings on the utilitarian scale (all Ms < 3.1) but high ratings on the hedonistic scale (all Ms > 5.4). Four products, which had high ratings on both scales (all Ms > 4.2 on the utilitarian scale; Ms > 3.9 on the hedonistic scale) were selected as stimuli for Experiment 2. These "hybrid products" were hair shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant and body lotion.

EXPERIMENT 1

Subjects

One hundred and thirteen students (46% males, 54% females), enrolled in two different undergraduate marketing courses, participated in the study. Eighty-five percent of all subjects had English as a native language. Students who were not fluent in English were asked to refrain from participating in the study.

Instructions

Subjects were told that marketers frequently would have to face the decision of choosing a brand name for a new product. Subjects were further told that we intended to test the effectiveness of a recent trend in television and radio advertising: pronouncing a brand name with a foreign accent.

Design and Materials

Subjects were told that on their questionnaires they would find eight brand names listed next to eight product categories and what they would hear two different pronunciations of the same brand name recorded on a tape. After listening to each pronunciation. they should indicate on a seven-point scale how much they liked the particular pronunciation of the brand name for the particular product.

Before the experiment was conducted, a bilingual male person had been asked to pronounce eight brand names both in French and in English; the session was tape-recorded. On the tape, the order of the French and English pronunciation of the same brand name was randomized. The order of the four utilitarian and the four hedonistic products on the questionnaire was also randomized in order to ensure that possible effects were not due to the association of a particular brand name with a particular product category. The made-up brand names were Mabor, Varner, Soment, Yocler, Talace, Trinon and Larient. They had been coined by the researchers on the basis of two criteria: they were syntactically and phonetically acceptable in both English and French, and they could easily be pronounced in a "French sounding" and "English sounding" manner.

Results

To test whether the French pronunciation of the brand name was more effective for hedonistic products and whether the English pronunciation was more effective for the utilitarian products, a 2(pronunciation: French/English)x 8 (product category) ANOVA was conducted on the liking scale. Both independent variables were within-subject variables. As predicted, the ANOVA revealed a strong interaction of pronunciation and product category. As Table 1 shows, the French pronunciation was liked better for every single hedonistic product and the English pronunciation was liked better for every single utilitarian product, thus providing strong support for our hypothesis.

In an additional analysis, a 2x2 ANOVA was conducted on a composite score for the hedonistic and utilitarian products and also revealed a strong cross-over interaction (F[1,103]= 176.44, p c .0001). The means of the composite score are presented in Table 2.

TABLE 1

MEAN LIKING SCORES AS A FUNCTION OF PRODUCT CATEGORY AND PRONUNCATION

EXPERIMENT 2

Method

One hundred and thirty-six students participated in experiment 2. Subjects were given a booklet that contained product categories and scales. At the beginning of the booklet, subjects read an explanation of what we meant by utilitarian and hedonistic products. Subjects were told that each product listed in the booklet was a product that had both utilitarian and hedonistic features. The booklet contained the four products categories that had been pretested as hybrid products, namely hair shampoo (#1), toothpaste (#2), deodorant (#3), and body lotion (#4). Each product was followed by three seven-point scales: (1) a "utilitarian -- hedonistic scale" on which subjects were asked to indicate the degree to which the brand name evoked thoughts and feelings related to the product's utilitarian vs hedonistic characteristics ("definitely utilitarian --definitely hedonistic"); (2) a ''liking scale" on which subjects indicated how much they liked the brand name of the particular. product ("not at all -- very much"); and (3) a scale on which subjects rated how expensive they thought the product would be ("not at all expensive --very expensive").

Subjects were instructed to listen carefully to a tape on which the brand names were recorded. The brand names were Rimor. Orman, Randal and Pintour.

In order to provide a clear test of our hypothesis that it is the pronunciation of the brand name and not the brand name itself or the association of a particular brand name with a particular product that produces the effect, two different versions of the tape and four different versions of the booklet were prepared. On tape 1, the first two brand names were pronounced in French and the next two brand names were pronounced in English. On tape 2, the brand names were in the same order but the pronunciation was reversed. On version 1 of the booklet, the order of the product categories was #1, #2, #3, #4; on version 2, the order was #2, #3, #4,#1; on version 3. the order was #3, #4, #1, #2; and on version 4, il was #4, #1, #2, #3. Thus a subject who listened to version 1 of the tape and version 1 of the booklet first rated a brand of hair shampoo pronounced in French, then a brand of toothpaste pronounced in French, then a brand of deodorant pronounced in English, and finally he or she rated a brand of body lotion pronounced in English.

Results

For each of the four products, one-way ANOVAs were performed on the three dependent variables and the significance levels were adjusted with a Bonferroni procedure. For the four product categories, the ANOVAs were significant on the "utilitarian -hedonistic scale" (F(1,132)=58.38, p< .0001 for ha.r shampoo; F(1,130)=52.94, p< .0001 for toothpaste; F(1, 131)=33.12, p<.0001 for deodorant and F( 1,134)=50.15, p< .0001 for body lotion). As

TABLE 2

MEAN COMPOSITE SCORES OF LIKING FOR UTILITARIAN AND HEDONISTIC PRODUCTS AS A FUNCTION OF PRONUNCIATION

TABLE 3

MEAN RATINGS ON THE UTILITARIAN/HEDONISTIC SCALE AS A FUNCTION OF PRODUCT CATEGORY AND PRONUNCIATION

predicted and as shown in Table 3, subjects who listened to the French pronunciation of the brand names evaluated the products as more hedonistic, while subjects who listened to the English pronunciation evaluated the products as less hedonistic. In addition to the significant effects on the utilitarian/Hedonistic scales, subjects inferred a higher price for brand names pronounced in French (all ps < .0(X)1) and, for two of the products (hair shampoo and toothpaste), subjects liked the French pronunciation better than the English pronunciation (ps < .05).

GENERAL DISCUSSION

It was hypothesized that consumers would like a bran(l name better if there is a congruence between a cultural stereotype associated with its pronunciation and certain product features. The strong interaction of pronunciation and product category in study 1 confirmed our hypothesis.

It was also demonstrated that the cultural stereotype attached to the pronunciation of a brand name in the case of hybrid products can bias subjects' perceptions. As predicted, subjects who listened to the French pronunciation of the brand names were more likely to evaluate the products in hedonistic terms, while subjects who had listened to the English pronunciation were more likely to evaluate the product in utilitarian terms. Moreover, consumers expected the hybrid products to be more expensive when the brand name was pronounced in French than when it was pronounced in English. The latter finding may be interpreted in one of two ways: either consumers who focus on the hedonistic aspects triggered by the cultural stereotype believe that the product is more expensive or the effect is specific to the French pronunciation, i.e., consumers believe that-a French product is likely to be priced higher. It may also be the case that consumers used the foreign pronunciation as a cue for the country of origin and then on the basis of this cue inferred a higher price. Future research should try to disentangle these confounded effects. Another relevant question is whether consumers would be willing to pay more for a product with a French brand name.

A possible limitation of study 2 is the within-subject manipulation of the pronunciation that might have accentuated the effect. The study should be replicated with a between-subjects design. In such a replication, the effect of cultural stereotypes on product perception should also be tested for pure utilitarian and hedonistic products.

Another relevant question for future research is the extent to which our results can be generalized to other languages. Replications of our experiments could be done with other languages such as Japanese, in which case the cultural stereotype includes the belief that Japanese are technologically very sophisticated -- a belief which may be used beneficially in the marketing of brand names for technological products. Finally, it should be investigated whether our effects also hold true for different dependent variables, such as feeling and recall measures.

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