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Meaningful Vowels

October 8, 2007

Vowel sounds in product names may imply what kind of product they’re best suited for.


Using sounds to sell. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Certain brand names seem to fit some products better than others. A new study by marketing professors Tina Lowrey and L.J. Shrum at the University of Texas at San Antonio suggests one reason why. They invented pairs of product names that differed only by a single vowel: one made with the front of the mouth, like (short) "i" or (long) "e", and one made with the back of the mouth, like ("ah") or ("aw").

LJ SHRUM (University of Texas at San Antonio):
By about a 2 to 1 margin, the folks that were asked which they preferred for a sports car chose the front-vowel-sounding word.

They also preferred front-vowel names for knives – but favored back-vowel-sounding names for SUV’s or hammers. That’s consistent with past findings that front vowels suggest small, sharp, and quick, while back vowels suggest large, slow, and dull. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.