The Effect of Morphemic Familiarity and Exposure Mode on Recall and Recognition of Brand Names

EXTENDED ABSTRACT - Brand names, like words, are typically created from morphemic combinations (Robertson, 1989). A morpheme is defined as the smallest unit of language that carries information about meaning or function (O’Grady, Dobrovolsky, and Aronoff 1989). English contains more than 6,000 morphemes ranging from full words such as Aman@ to small parts of words that cannot stand alone such as A-ly.@ These 6,000+ morphemes can and have been combined to form the tens of thousands of words found in today’s English language dictionaries.


Dawn Lerman (2003) ,"The Effect of Morphemic Familiarity and Exposure Mode on Recall and Recognition of Brand Names", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, eds. Punam Anand Keller and Dennis W. Rook, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 80-81.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 30, 2003     Pages 80-81


Dawn Lerman, Fordham University


Brand names, like words, are typically created from morphemic combinations (Robertson, 1989). A morpheme is defined as the smallest unit of language that carries information about meaning or function (O’Grady, Dobrovolsky, and Aronoff 1989). English contains more than 6,000 morphemes ranging from full words such as "man" to small parts of words that cannot stand alone such as "-ly." These 6,000+ morphemes can and have been combined to form the tens of thousands of words found in today’s English language dictionaries.

Use of this morphemic approach in brand name development carries a number of advantages. For an English speaking consumer, for example, the morphemes contained in the names "Vitabath," "Duracraft," and "Hydrovive" are already represented in memory, thus aiding brand name learning. Moreover, since morphemes themselves are meaningful units, their use can result in a name with associations that support the desired brand image (Robertson 1989). Thus, the name "Duracraft" suggests that the fans bearing this name are well-made and will last a long time.

Despite the advantages of familiar morphology, some managers choose names that consist of non-native morphemes within their domestic markets. Managers wanting to elicit a country-of-origin effect, for example, will likely use morphemes that are generally recognized as originating from the language intended as the country-of-origin (e.g., French-sounding Mont Blanc, a German brand) (Harris, Jackson, Strum, Klassen, andBechtold 1986). Even Nike, the all-American brand has a name consisting of a Greek morpheme meaning "Victory." In this case, the distinctiveness of "Nike" was presumably a key factor in this name choice (Kohli and LaBahn 1997).

The use of a morphemically familiar or unfamiliar name can have a marked effect on memory. Since a consumer’s ability to comprehend, receive, and encode such information is limited by her knowledge (Alba and Hutchinson, 1987), the consumer is likely to have an easier time encoding morphemically familiar names than morphemically unfamiliar names. This relative ease is a function of prior lexical representation of the morphemes contained in a morphemically familiar name.

A second factor determining consumer memory for brand names is the relationship between exposure and memory modes. The modern marketplace often requires that consumers use visually-presented information auditorily and auditorily-presented information visually. A consumer looking to buy a brand she heard advertised on the radio, for example, must visually recall the brand name in order to include it on her written shopping list and then must visually recognize the brand name as it appears on product packaging. Similarly, a consumer interested in purchasing a brand appearing in billboard advertising may have to recall the brand name in order to ask for it in a store or recognize the brand name when said aloud by a store clerk. These scenarios share a common feature; in all cases, the consumer is exposed to the brand name in one mode but needs to remember it in another.

In a mismatch, two possible scenarios for encoding and retrieval emerge: 1) the consumer encodes the information in both modes upon initial exposure by performing on-line grapheme-to-phoneme (i.e., letter to sound) or phoneme-to-grapheme (i.e., sound to letter) transcription and then retrieves the requested information directly from memory or 2) the consumer encodes the information in the mode presented, retrieves this information, and then performs on-line transcription in order to present the information in the requested memory mode. Although these scenarios differ in the timing of transcription, they both require that transcription be performed. Proper performance in either case, then, requires knowledge of applicable grapheme-to-phoneme and phoneme-to-grapheme correspondence rules. Such knowledge is not necessary when exposure and memory modes match, since the consumer is asked to retrieve the brand name as it was originally presented. The varying role of correspondence rule knowledge requires that any investigation of consumer memory for brand names consider the difference between matched and mismatched modes.

This paper draws on this distinction between matched and mismatched modes in order to understand recall and recognition for morphemically familiar and unfamiliar brand names. More specifically, it argues that the relative advantage of morphemically familiar and morphemically unfamiliar brand names on recognition depends on exposure and memory mode (mis)match; morphemically unfamiliar names should hold a recognition advantage when exposure and memory modes match and morphemically familiar names should hold a recognition advantage when exposure and memory modes mismatch. In contrast, the paper argues that consumers are more likely to recall a morphemically familiar name than a morphemically unfamiliar name regardless of whether exposure and memory modes (mis)match.

The study employed a 2 x 2 between-subjects experimental design in order to test the relationships described. The two factors were morphemic familiarity of the brand name (morphemically familiar, morphemically unfamiliar) and exposure mode (visual, auditory). All subjects were exposed to a target name and two fillers. Subjects were tested for recall and recognition after exposure to all three names and the completion of a variety of other measures.

The findings do offer support for the idea that recognition of morphemically familiar and unfamiliar names depends on the relationship between exposure and memory modes. As predicted, subjects were more likely to recognize the morphemically unfamiliar name than the morphemically familiar name when exposure and memory modes matched. Similarly, the morphemically unfamiliar name outperformed the morphemically familiar name in the case of visual-auditory mismatch. In contrast, however, the results offer directional support of higher recognition for the morphemically familiar name in the case of auditory-visual mismatch. The difference in recognition rates across the two mismatched scenarios was unexpected but may be explained in terms of perceived distinctiveness of the name following auditory versus visual exposure.

Whereas the distinction between matched and mismatched modes clearly influenced recognition, it appears to have less bearing on recall. Following auditory exposure, the morphemically familiar name was more likely to be recalled than was the morphemically unfamiliar name. This relationship held regardless of whether exposure and memory modes matched or mismatched. In contrast, the morphemically unfamiliar name was better recalled in the case of visual match. There was no significant difference in recall rates in the case of visual-auditory mismatch. The superior recall of the visually-presented morphemically unfamiliar name versus the visually-presented morphemically familiar name was unexpected but may be explained in terms of phonological recoding.


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Dawn Lerman, Fordham University


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