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Das menschliche Denken

Welopment ist eine Beratungsfirma mit Fokus auf menschzentrierter Gestaltung und Unternehmensstrategie. Wir optimieren und evaluieren interaktive Umgebungen, Produkte und Dienstleistungen - unter Berücksichtigung kognitiver, emotionaler und sozialer Faktoren - auf der Grundlage von Wirtschaftspsychologie, Kognitionswissenschaft und Wirtschaftswissenschaft


Consumers’ emotional requirements, or so-called Kansei needs, have become important human factors in designing a product. Driven by the market competitiveness of global consumer electronics industry, all related companies have to struggle to survive with higher quality and lower costs. In this context it is important for design companies and manufacturers to understand the individuals’ opinions about the products because the product’s design is what forges an immediate, emotional connection to the consumers.

It has been well documented that individuals acquire and display material possessions specially with well-known brands and participate in consumer experiences for the purpose of developing a self-image as one who is different from others and a social-image as one who is unique. Conceptual marketing models illustrate uniqueness motivation as a personality characteristic that determines important consumer phenomena, such as the fashion decision process and style selection.

Fashion technology, which contains art, science, and experience, can be viewed as a form of interdisciplinary collaboration and as an idea of pragmatic innovation. A consumer electronics product with charming appearance and well-done design is a kind of material possession for individuals to show their differentiation. Perceived composed by pleasure and beauty has been validated as a significant determinant for acceptance of fashion technology in hedonic-oriented consumer electronics.

An important question to answer is what visions people expect from use of a specific fashion technology, how intuitive is the product for usage, and how perceptive is the product for a user. Therefore, it is of great importance to incorporate the emotional (brand attachment and uniqueness), aesthetic (pleasure and beauty), and ergonomic (perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use) aspects of fashion technology into a prognostic model in order to be able to predict acceptance and guide product design activities prospectively.

Based on empirical research (Lu & Tzou, 2006) perceived aesthetics variables such as pleasure and beauty have the greatest positive impact on consumers’ acceptance for fashion technology and beauty of product also directly affects pleasure of consumers which in turn has a positive effect on consumers' acceptance. So, it can be inferred that aesthetics is a key driver for development and design of consumer electronics products.

Ergonomic factors such as perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use have a remarkably small positive impact on the intention to use new fashion technology.

Although perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use do not necessarily have a direct positive influence on intention to use fashion technology, these still have to be considered two fundamental constructs and have to be regarded as requirements for intention to use fashion technology. Undoubtedly, however, appearance of technology can catch more consumers’ eyes, especially who have more need for uniqueness and consumers will choose beautiful and brilliant possessions to display their differentiation from other individuals.

Since the 1950s, marketing models covering the marketing process for consumers, business, non-profit, goods, or services have been developed. In terms of transactional marketing and the marketing mix, marketing is based on microeconomic theory and behavioral theory of the firm, from an exchange perspective. The model is based on goods logic, where the individual is seen as a consumer with average needs in a mass-market context, in which advertising is a major tool in appealing to the market. The model is built around acquiring short-term exchanges, and single transactions between an active seller and a passive buyer.

The model of relationship marketing is more sophisticated, in that it is based on interaction and network theories and social exchange theories. The model modifies the shortcomings and simplicity of the model of transactional marketing, by focusing on interactions, networks, and relationships between an active and adaptive seller and buyer. Moreover, the model is based on a service logic in which the individual is a customer within a relationship perspective. The model is built around customer retention, long-term relationships, two-way communication and personal interactions, emphasizing a customer-centric view with relationship handling in the focus of a firm’s marketing strategy and tactics.

However, the use of customer relationship management and customer-specific marketing, has de-personalized marketing further, instead of getting closer to the customer’s mind and senses. In applying these technologies, firms have attempted to build long-term customer relationships, based on a technically more advanced approach than a personal approach, a development which has aroused criticism.

Furthermore, the two models of transactional marketing and relationship marketing offer limited opportunities to depict the marketing process of the multi-sensory brand-experience and follow certain logics. In other words, in the transactional marketing-model, the good is dominant, and in the relationship marketing-model, the service dominates as a support for customer processes. Neither model considers the marketing process of either brand as image, or sensory experiences and what this entails. And no insights are offered with regard to which means or tools managers can use in facilitating the multi-sensory brand-experience.

Taking a perspective in which service is seen as a mediating variable for value creation, it is possible to remedy these shortcomings.

A sensory marketing model takes its point of departure in the human mind and senses, where mental flows, processes and psychological reactions take place and result in a multi-sensory brand-experience. An individual’s personal and subjective interpretation and understanding of a multi-sensory brand-experience is referred to here as experiential logic. This means that, for each individual, the logic contributes to forming behavioral, emotional, cognitive, sensory, or symbolic values. The experience becomes an image, forming the mental conceptions and perceptions of interactions and inputs in the service process, which constitutes the final outcome of the multi-sensory experience within a brand perspective. This perspective is defined here as an individual’s beliefs, feelings, thoughts, and opinions about a brand, based on the overall experience.

The model of sensory marketing differs from the transactional marketing and relationship marketing-models through its emphasis on the multi-sensory brand-experience. In the latter two models, the good or service is emphasized, but not the multi-sensory brand-experience of goods or services or other elements within a brand perspective. The sensory marketing-model offers a firm the opportunity to differentiate and express a brand as image through sensorial strategies, based on cognitive, emotional, or value-based elements in relation to the human mind and senses. This relates to how to position a product in the sense of 'positioning' is what you do to the mind of the experiencing human being. The imprints a firm leaves, in order to distinguish and express itself, can then be related to a deeper, individual emotional level than the transactional marketing and relationship marketing-models can explain. [125]

Human senses are an incredible information collection system. Through them, we create inner images of ambient situations and, based on that information, intuitively and instantaneously process additional sensory information to make imminent decisions. Our senses help us understand the world through recall of the resident information stored in our memories. Therefore, our sensory systems play an important role in encoding, retrieving, and reconstructing information. Behavioral economists have begun addressing this need for a sensory marketing perspective which emphasizes the sensory impressions that accompany optimal emotional responses to cause changes in purchasing behavior.

Traditional information processing in consumer behavior theories encompasses a broad range of stages. Consumers review and evaluate each piece of information through the stages of exposure, attention, and comprehension, finally arriving at a judgment: purchase intention. Or, a stimulus is detected in sensory registers and transmitted to short-term memory, where it is attended to and comprehended through the process of encoding, storage, and retrieval from long-term memory.

In traditional consumer decision-making processes, reasonable decisions and inferences are made based on the process of learn-feel-act.

Now, it is important not only to better understand the role of senses in information processing but also to develop new consumer decision-making models based on the senses by critically reexamining the cognition- or emotion-based models.

A new sensory branding model based on intuitive and unconscious information processing proposes that consumers sense first, then feel or think, and act last. The emphasis hereby is on the firt stage of sensing. Making a sensory, emotional, and rational connection with consumers can stimulate their senses and appeal to them. The understanding of how our senses work is thus a key to successful strategies in branding.

Most successful brands have a sensory profile related to at least one distinct and positive sensory characteristic. Some brands have several sensory characteristics simultaneously. For instance, Coca-Cola appeals to various senses through sight (its curvy bottle), touch (the feel of its cool package), hearing (the sound created when pouring), and taste (its invigorating flavor).

There is strong evidence that consumer brand loyalty results from sensory perceptions of superior brand experience, leadership, and clarity. More specifically, the sense of sight has a significant relationship with brand leadership and clarity and played a supplementary role in the other functions. Taste, touch, and smell all enhance brand loyalty through superior brand experience. In addition, all five senses have impact on loyalty, with taste exerting the greatest influence, followed by smell, sound, touch, and sight.

The more the sensory stimuli that are provided that are specially tailored to a specific product, the greater the product's perceived value will be. Therefore, developing a branding strategy based on sensory experience has important implications in a consumer market characterized by individuals' emotions and experiences.

Senses interact with memories differently, depending on individuals' social backgrounds and cultural differences. For example, researchers have investigated the role of scent as an external clue. Pleasant ambient scent improves both recall and recognition of unfamiliar brands rather than familiar brands. It carries out the function of memory marker by strengthening the clarity of the recollection. Some scents, such as lemon, make people nervous or improve their information processing capability. Such knowledge is useful for firms to develop marketing plans germane to sensory appeals in brand communications.

Response to sensory appeals directly invokes self-referencing and affective reaction, which in turn influence brand attitude. Self-referencing and positive affect have a strong mediating effect between sensory preference and brand attitude.

In traditional consumer behavior and psychology research, self-referencing increases elaboration, influences persuasion, and improves recall of words and sentences. Self-referencing can be defined as the process of inducing relative significance where a consumer relates a message to his or her self experience or expectation - which positively affects their ad and brand attitudes. For example, a mental simulation of wearing running shoes leads to a favorable attitude that, in turn, increases the likelihood to try and purchase that product.

But how does a consumer's preference toward sensory clues influence brand attitude formation through self-referencing?

In general, when consumers are exposed to stimuli, they compare sensory and physical characteristics with schema represented in memory. In this case, the affective tag causes a relevant affective reaction by acting as part of the schema. Positive affect is inducible without cognitive efforts when stimuli are congruent with sensory-involved schema. This view is consistent with the perspective of classical conditioning theory on affective reaction. When consumers see ad messages with sensory appeals, they first retrieve information registered in the schema which is built by past sensory experience. This retrieval helps them evaluate whether or not it is a favorable sense. For example, when consumers see a taste appeal ad message for a fresh-tasting orange, the ad image will be readily congruent with their ideal product or brand objective (e.g., a fresh-tasting orange) if they have a high level of favorability toward their taste sense. In addition, self-referencing through mental simulation (i.e., imagining eating an orange) can become more detailed and strengthened. This positive result of self-referencing affects a positive attitude toward ads and brands. Therefore, self-referencing may act as a mediating variable between sensory preference and brand attitude.

What, then, is the role of the senses in the consumer decision-making process? The traditional decision-making process model is based on the idea that consumers are rational and that they reason consciously with perfect cognition. However, the power of reason is apparently not as influential widely assumed. That is, consumers are intuitive and use an unconscious process based on limited knowledge when they make a decision. This process might be defined as a sensory cognitive theory that proposes that consumers sense first, then feel or think, and finally act, rather than taking the traditional process of learn-feel-act as an order of response toward stimuli.

According to this new cognitive theory, the body should not be considered separate from the mind. Unconscious and sensory-emotional responses play an important role in defining the consumer–product relationship, interpreting advertising, and influencing products and services. This view broadens the boundaries of existing theory, which posits that consumers get product information through sensory information and reach purchasing behavior through the process of learn-feel. Additionally, sensory clues themselves can influence brand attitudes. In other words, sensory information may shift to brand information before changing into cognitive or emotional information.

What can we learn about the roles of the senses in branding?

In many cases a multisensory experience directly affects the perception of product quality and brand value. In addition, the number of senses activated in a brand is significantly related to the price of the product, so that brands appealing to all five senses can demand a higher price than those appealing to only one or two senses.

Clearly, social, cultural and biological factors shape human cognition. Human cognition - and specifically decision making - is sensitive to the context and content of the situation in which a choice is made. Studying the ecological rationality of human strategies in dealing with physical and economical mechanisms, namely technologies, markets, and institutions reveals such a dependency of human cognition on the contexts in which decisions are made. The notion of ecological rationality sees human rationality as the result of the adaptive fit between the human mind and the environment. So, for a first understanding the term 'ecological rationality' could even be replaced with what we could refer to as 'real world rationality'.

The concept of ecological rationality suggests three basic tenets regarding decision making. 1. The mind’s decision strategies are adapted to particular environments. Therefore, decision strategies are not good or bad per se but can only be evaluated relative to the environments in which they are used. Here, we use the term environment to refer to the statistical properties of a set of objects, such as the correlations between attributes of these objects and a criterion. 2. In certain environments, simple decision strategies are able to compete with complex strategies. 3. Humans largely respond adaptively to task and environmental characteristics.

According to common wisdom, more knowledge, more information, and more computation should lead to better decisions, while cognitive limitations pose a liability. Analyses of simple strategies have shown that this is not necessarily the case. It has been shown that simple strategies can work well in many natural environments, which suggests that even stress-related deficits in strategy use may not necessarily translate into reduced decision quality.

However, the existence of multiple decision environments and strategies poses a fundamental problem to decision makers - that of adaptively selecting a strategy that fits the particular environment. People are by and large adaptive decision makers. In fact, decision makers seem to be sensitive to a number of task characteristics and adjust their strategies accordingly, including monetary information costs, time pressure, statistical relations between cue and criterion, and cognitive costs, e.g. memory demands.

Der Mensch verändert und gestaltet seinen Lebensraum und mit diesem auch die Herausforderungen, denen er begegnet. Diese reichen von individuellen physischen und kognitiven Anforderungen bis hin zu den komplexen Voraussetzungen von Erfolg in gesellschaftlichen Systemen. In unserem teils vom Menschen selbst erschaffenen Ökosystem ist das Streben nach Überlegenheit an die Stelle eines metaphorischen Kampfes um das Überleben getreten. Und diese Überlegenheit ist nur durch überlegtes Handeln zu gewinnen. Insoweit wir in unserem Lebensraum unsere ursprünglichen Fähigkeiten nutzen wollen, müssen wir in der Lage sein, rationales Denken und Intuition mit den Anforderungen und spezifischen Merkmalen unserer Umwelt in Einklang zu bringen.

Dies kann gelingen, indem wir physische und institutionelle Mechanismen in Form von Technologien entwickeln, die unsere ursprünglichen Fähigkeiten unterstützen und erweitern, sowie gesellschaftliche und wirtschaftliche Institutionen schaffen, denen wir vertrauen schenken können und die unsere gemeinsamen Aktivitäten koordinieren.

Mit einem um eine kognitive, emotionale und soziale (institutionelle) Perspektive erweiterten Ergonomie-Begriff können wir ökonomische und gebundene Rationalität als Bezugspunkte bei der Gestaltung unserer Umwelt nutzen.

Auf dieser Grundlage optimieren und evaluieren wir interaktive und physische Umgebungen, Produkte und Dienstleistungen hinsichtlich ökonomischer, ergonomischer und Erlebnis-bezogener Kriterien - und bringen so die physischen, emotionalen und kognitiven Einflussfaktoren in den Fokus der Gestaltung. Wir arbeiten auf der Grundlage von Wirtschaftspsychologie, Kognitionswissenschaft und Wirtschaftswissenschaft. Aufbauend auf der Basis valider empirischer Befunde entwickeln wir Anwendungs- und Fall-bezogene Methoden in Anwendungsbereichen wie Marketing, Management, Design und Ergonomie, Softwaretechnologie.

How do consumers process and evaluate brands? Following most theories of human judgment and prominent brand equity models, consumers encode and retrieve declarative brand attributes and brand knowledge when they process and evaluate brands. However, according to models of experiential information processing, brands may also evoke sensations and emotions as well as bodily and visceral responses during encoding and retrieval. Consequently, consumers may also use these brand experiences to arrive at brand evaluations and it seems relevant, to study encoding and retrieval processes and the use of declarative and experiential information in brand evaluations in detail.

The degree to which declarative or experiential information is used depends on the judgment context - for example, the task to be performed and the nature of the stimuli. The judgment context may be a typical situation that consumers frequently encounter when they shop and purchase products as part of their everyday lives. This situation is characterized by short exposure, limited information presentation and time constraints to build up an evaluation.

In a typical experiment participants will be shown several brands; they will be asked to briefly think about the brands and then evaluate them. The stimuli will be unfamiliar and familiar brands, and, within familiar brands, strong and weak brands. Both strong and weak brands can easily be recognized; however, strong brands display higher unaided recall and top-of-the-mind recall. Moreover, strong brands possess stronger and more positive brand associations.

When consumers are asked to evaluate a brand, they may 1. construct an attitude ad hoc based on the information presented in a bottom up manner, or 2. they may retrieve information stored in long-term memory, in top down fashion.

For unfamiliar brands, consumers have no information stored in long-term memory and thus need to construct an attitude ad hoc based on the information available. One of the most relevant source of information for doing so will be the brand name. Because the name is unfamiliar, consumers will be engaged in various linguistic encoding processes, including basic motor strategies, short-term memory maintenance and some cognitive elaboration.

In contrast, when consumers render a judgment about a strong brand, they can simply retrieve information from long-term memory - for example, information available from prior indirect brand exposures and from interacting with the brand.

Weak brands, interestingly, seem to share common aspects with both unfamiliar and strong brands. Specifically, because weak brands have lower levels of awareness than strong brands, they can be recognized easily but not recalled freely, and consumers may be motivated to further analyze weak names in working memory, similar to unfamiliar brands.

However, consumers can retrieve prior information from long-term memory to render a judgment for weak brands, as they can for strong brands. Thus, there is more activation in brain regions associated with ad hoc linguistic processing of the brand name for unfamiliar and weak compared to strong brands. And, there is more activation in brain regions associated with retrieval for strong and weak brands, compared to unfamiliar brands.

Ad hoc and retrieval-based attitudes

When consumers are asked to evaluate a brand, they may construct an attitude ad hoc based on the information presented in a bottom up manner, or they may retrieve information stored in long-term memory, in top down fashion.

For unfamiliar brands, consumers have no information stored in long-term memory and thus need to construct an attitude ad hoc based on the information available. One of the most relevant source of information for doing so will be the brand name. Because the name is unfamiliar, consumers will be engaged in various linguistic encoding processes, including basic motor strategies, short-term memory maintenance and some cognitive elaboration.

In contrast, when consumers render a judgment about a strong brand, they can simply retrieve information from long-term memory - for example, information available from prior indirect brand exposures and from interacting with the brand.

Weak brands, interestingly, seem to share common aspects with both unfamiliar and strong brands. Specifically, because weak brands have lower levels of awareness than strong brands, they can be recognized easily but not recalled freely, and consumers may be motivated to further analyze weak names in working memory, similar to unfamiliar brands. However, consumers can retrieve prior information from long-term memory to render a judgment for weak brands, as they can for strong brands. Thus, there is more activation in brain regions associated with ad hoc linguistic processing of the brand name for unfamiliar and weak compared to strong brands. Conversely, there is more activation in brain regions associated with retrieval for strong and weak brands, compared to unfamiliar brands.

When encoding and retrieving information, consumers may use two distinct types of information - declarative and experiential information - to render an evaluative judgment.

Declarative knowledge

When consumers use declarative knowledge, they access attributes, facts and knowledge about the target stimulus. When they use experiential information, they attend to their personal feelings and experiences.

Declarative information is often accessed and used in a systematic, step-by-step fashion. The expectancy-value model of attitudes, for example, assumes systematic processing by postulating that attitudes are based on accessible beliefs about the attitude object. Alternatively, declarative information may also be used heuristically, by using simple rules of thumb. Because strong brands possess more and stronger associations than weak brands and because these associations are more tightly organized, it should be easier for consumers to access declarative information about strong brands than weak brands when using heuristics. Moreover, it should be easier for them to draw inferences about strong than weak brands. Therefore, when consumers access declarative knowledge, regions associated with processing declarative knowledge are more active for strong than weak brands.

Experiential information

In contrast, the experiential view holds that consumers use emotions and experiences evoked by brands to render an evaluative judgment. Most importantly, the sources of these feelings may not be cognitive - declarative in nature but may include “bodily arousal and bodily sensations” and “ visceral input”. Moreover, experienced feelings may be re-activated in sensory-motor areas when consumers recall them. Based on this bodily-sensory information, consumers may experience an attachment to the brand, brand trust, brand excitement, and even love, intimacy and passion. To see whether consumers retrieve felt experiences, we need to compare, once again, strong and weak brands. Strong brands should be more likely to evoke positive feelings than weak brands. As mentioned earlier, strong brands display higher unaided recall and stronger positive brand associations than weak brands.

Higher unaided recall entails greater familiarity; the mere effect of familiarity of strong brands results in positive affect. Strong positive associations should further contribute to positive feelings. Finally, consumers may recall specific past consumption experiences; these powerful sources of information may trigger strong feelings such as brand attachment, trust, and excitement. In sum, following the experiential perspective, more activation of brain regions associated with positive emotional experiences occur for strong than weak brands.

Which brain areas are associated with the processing of declarative information and which areas are associated with positive emotions and experiences? Prior neuropsychological studies have shown that declarative memory is associated with the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal lobe. Previous research has also identified several regions associated with feelings. The amygdala, in particular, which is part of the limbic system, has received a lot of attention.

It is important to note, however, a meta-analysis of brain-imaging studies concluded that the amygdala is associated mostly with strong and primary negative emotions, such as fear - an emotion that is unlikely to occur frequently in the context of brand evaluations.

Another brain region, the pallidum, which is associated with positive emotions and pleasure, is conceptually much closer to the experienced feelings proposed here. Importantly, the pallidum has been implicated in numerous studies in which participants experienced pleasurable sensations and reported positive emotions in response to sensory stimuli such as sweet tastes, visual images or sexual stimuli that are likely to result in visceral and bodily experiences.

In the judgment context investigated here, characterized by short exposure, limited information presentation and time constraints, it is positive experiential information (rather than declarative information) that seems to affect the differential evaluations of strong and weak brands.

Thus, experiential information alone can lead to judgments and can have primacy over declarative information in certain judgment contexts. The view that experienced emotions can be more important than declarative information was further supported by the unpredicted activation of the insula, which is associated with negative emotions, for weak and unfamiliar brands. It was found that weak brands are associated with negative experiences when analyzing the brain-imaging data.

Following the “somatic marker hypothesis”, somatic and visceral representation of emotionally negative and aversive stimuli are held in the insula and can signal that a decision or judgment may be risky.

The higher insula activations thus may indicate that individuals perceive uncertainty, risk and negative emotions when they process unfamiliar and weak brands.

This effect may have occurred because individuals can only attend to or recall limited amounts of information for unfamiliar and weak brands compared to strong brands. That is, individuals had to rely on limited available information to form an evaluation, as is often the case in everyday decision situations, which may have resulted in negative emotions.

The processing and evaluation of unfamiliar and weak brands is thus not a “cold,” analytical encoding and learning process focused on utilizing declarative information but a process during which consumers experience emotions that may become associated permanently with brands.

Most of our everyday experiences, at least the pleasant ones, are multisensory. A consumer's brand and product experiences are no exception, as many sensory marketers are increasingly coming to realize.

That said, introspection often tells us that we see color only with our eyes, that we feel softness exclusively with our fingertips, and that we taste the crunch of the potato chip only with our mouths. However, the empirical evidence that has emerged from the psychology and neuroscience laboratories over the last few years tells a very different story.

In fact, it has now become increasingly apparent that what we see, and how we feel about it, are also influenced by what we happen to be smelling at the time. Similarly, our perception of softness is influenced by olfactory cues, and crispness turns out to be as much a matter of what we hear, as about what we actually feel in the mouth.

One aspect of multisensory perception that has started to gain increasing importance over the last couple of years relates to the topic of crossmodal correspondences. Such crossmodal correspondences can be defined as a tendency for a feature, or attribute, in one sensory modality to be matched or associated with a sensory feature, or attribute in another sensory modality.

One ubiquitous crossmodal correspondence is that between larger objects (no matter whether seen or felt) and lower-pitched sounds, and smaller objects and higher-pitched sounds. In this case, at least, the correspondence reflects a fundamental law of physics.

Two classes of crossmodal correspondence that I want to look at more closely are sound and shape symbolism.

Sound symbolism is the name given to the association that people experience between specific sounds (including speech sounds) and particular stimulus attributes (e.g., as when they associate words containing the ‘i’ sound with smallness). Shape symbolism refers to the similar crossmodal mapping that exists between abstract shapes and other sensory attributes (e.g., as between sharp pointy shapes and bitterness or carbonation in foods and beverages).

Put simply, when the different sensory attributes of a product, or its packaging, or of the environment in which that product is purchased, used, or experienced match (or correspond) crossmodally, then this can impact positively on the consumer's overall multisensory consumer experience. Our rapidly growing understanding of the psychological mechanisms underlying crossmodal correspondences, and in particular sound and shape symbolism, can be used to set up the appropriate sensory expectations in the mind of the consumer which, in turn can enhance the consumer's multisensory experience of both products and brands.

Marketers have long been aware of the non-arbitrary relationship that exists between a brand's success in the marketplace and the speech sounds that are contained in the brand name itself. Seemingly non-coincidental combinations of letters appearing in brand names include the letters 'i', and often also 'd', and ‘l’ found in the majority of the budget supermarket and store chains currently doing well in the UK (e.g., ‘Aldi’, ‘Lidl’, ‘Londis’, ‘Iceland’, and Primark).

Is this more than mere coincidence, one might ask? Scientific research provides some intriguing insights into the putative principles underlying many of these examples of sound symbolism in the marketplace. Many of the consonant and vowel sounds found in English, not to mention in other languages, appear to have different crossmodal associations linked to them.

When ‘i’ = small: Mil, mal, and the success of the Mini! There are good grounds to believe that brands that are associated with small objects, and/or companies that are associated with low prices, would do well to include the [i] sound in their brand name. Indeed, this may be the reason why, as we just saw, the letter ‘i’ appears in so many of the names of those successful budget supermarket chains. It likely also explains, at least in some small part, the continued success of the ‘Mini’ car brand. Could a large car ever have succeeded with such a ‘small’-sounding name?

The first researcher to pick-up on the association between the letter ‘i’ and smallness was Edgar Sapir back in 1929. He demonstrated that the majority of people (≥80%), when given the choice, chose the nonsense word ‘Mil’ to describe a small table, and the nonsense word ‘Mal’ to describe a large table (rather than the other way round). Sapir went on to highlight the fact that the same sound symbolic relationship was observable in the speakers of various different languages, including in a group of Chinese participants. These results were taken to show that this particular example of sound symbolism probably had more to do with the speech sounds themselves than with any semantic meaning that these particular vowel sounds might have (e.g., as in English words such as millimeter, miniscule, tiddler, tinsy, etc. vs. words such as large, grand, etc.).

Subsequent research has demonstrated that the mapping of ‘i’ to small (and ‘a’ to large) constitutes one of the more robust examples of sound symbolism to have been discovered to date.