Language influences us in all kinds of ways and there is a wealth of, sometimes confusing, findings relating to this in terms of consumer perceptions and preferences. Here is a video of a recent lecture given by Dr Antonia Mantonakis Psychologist and Professor of Marketing at Brock University in Ontario. In it she explores some of the research in this area and links it to a recent study she carried out. I am not sure if it is published in a peer reviewed journal yet but she describes its design in detail and also explores the logic which inspired it.
People generally prefer what is fluent and congruent (beef with carrots not grapefruit, French wine with French rather than Indian food). Studies such as the oft cited one by Adrian North and colleagues have demonstrated such effects e.g. German background music in a wine retailer will increase the sales of German wines. Mantonakis refers to this and other studies to frame her investigation into the influence of the name of a wine, or winery, on taste perception. She explores how typeface or font can alter behavioural responses due to ease of processing (more or less likely to participate in exercise) or perception of taste (rate an orange juice as tastier). See my previous blog on wine labels and typeface here.
Despite our preference for fluency, ease and congruence, she hypothesised that wine is different because it is hedonic and with this type of product we like rarity (see Veblen effects blog here). In linguistic terms dysfluency (hard to pronounce) seems to equate with rarer, and wine is perceived as better if it is rarer. This effect has been demonstrated in a study with cheese; hard to pronounce name equates with ‘more gourmet’, higher value and therefore better taste. So, Mantonakis and colleagues expected a wine with a more difficult sounding name might be perceived to be superior.
To explore this hypothesis they controlled variables and looked at ‘taste ratings’, ‘willingness to buy’ and ‘amount people would pay’ for what were identical wines (apart from the names). Mantonakis acknowledges design limitations (only Canadian participants etc.) and fields some interesting questions after her talk. Look out for the one on experts seeking more meaning in wines.
I will let the video speak for itself in terms of the findings but can’t resist highlighting the fallibility of experts (high wine knowledge consumers). Sometimes knowledge really is a dangerous, and costly, thing.