Episode 3: Language(s) in advertising and branding

At the beginning of this episode on language(s) in branding and advertising, Erika mentions the old and new logos of office supply chain Staples. Both integrate a stylised paper clip to indicate a typical product.

We then discuss sound symbolism (see glossary) and Erika refers to the “maluma takete effect”, which was first described by German psychologist Wolfgang Köhler back in 1933.

Almost 80 years later, Mary Kim Ngo and Charles Spence, two experimental psychologists at Oxford University, tested if the sound of the nonsense words ‘maluma’ and ‘takete’ could evoke associations with different tastes in chocolate (spoiler: they could).

In the first part of the episode, we also talk about how the sound of brand names can suggest a luxury product. The quiz that Erika conducts with her co-hosts is based on a study published in the International Journal of Market Research in 2017.

We conclude the first part by mentioning a study by our interview guest, Helen Kelly-Holmes, on the (misguided) use of the French language in an advertising campaign for Belgian brand Stella Artois.

In the interview itself, Helen talks, among other things,  about how and why different foreign languages are used in advertising and on public sector websites. Next to her own work, she makes references to two studies in particular: The Three Circles of English: Language specialists talk about the English language and Language is a costly and complicating factor’: a diachronic study of language policy in the virtual public sector.

Bernard also mentions an advertisement for the Dacia Duster car that uses a version of the song ‘Another one bites the dust’ by Queen. For a musical break, you can find the ad here. And this is the official video for the original  1980 song by Queen.

Back to language, and Helen explains that it takes an ‘acculturated audience’ to understand allusions to popular culture in advertising. That notion was first introduced by sociolinguist Nikolas Coupland in his 2007 book Style: Language variation and identity (Cambridge University Press). 

From the use of foreign languages in advertising campaigns, we move on to the use of foreign-looking letters in branding. The most notable example of this may well be Ikea; in fact, the product names of the furniture maker have spawned various memes that allude to popular culture, e.g. the fictional character of Hannibal Lecter in the film Silence of the Lambs, and current events, such as the much criticised semi-recumbent pose of British politician Jacob Rees-Mogg during a debate in parliament.

(Have you noticed the price tag?)

Towards the end of the interview, Bernard brings up the dimensions of brand personality that were first introduced by Jennifer Aaker more than 20 years ago.

In the third and final part of the episode, we engage in a light-touch analysis of the farewell video for the VW Kombi – and as promised, here is the link to the video.

Listen to the episode here

Full transcription of the episode

References and Further Reading

Köhler, W. (1933). Zur Phänomenologie des menschlichen Verhaltens. In Psychologische Probleme (pp. 141-169). Berlin: Springer. 

Ngo, M. K., & Spence, C. (2011). Assessing the shapes and speech sounds that consumers associate with different kinds of chocolate. Journal of Sensory Studies, 26(6), 421-428.

Pathak, A., Calvert, G. A., & Lim, E. A. (2017). How the linguistic characteristics of a brand name can affect its luxury appeal. International Journal of Market Research, 59(5), 567-600.

Kelly-Holmes, H. (2017). Brand styling, enregisterment, and change: The case of C’est Cidre. In Mortensen, J., Coupland, N. & Thøgersen, J. (eds) Style, Mediation, and Change: Sociolinguistic perspectives on talking media. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 101-114.

Hilgendorf, S., & Martin, E. (2001). English in advertising: Update for France and Germany. In Thumboo, E. (ed.) The Three Circles of English: Language specialists talk about the English language. Ann Arbor: UniPress, pp. 217-240.

Berezkina, M. (2018). ‘Language is a costly and complicating factor’: a diachronic study of language policy in the virtual public sector. Language Policy, 17(1), 55-75.

Aaker, J. L. (1997). Dimensions of brand personality. Journal of marketing research, 34(3), 347-356.

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