Marketing Research

This is fascinating:

Two marketing professors — Barbara Kahn of the Wharton School and Elizabeth Gelfland Miller of Boston College — have conducted some experiments to try to figure out what sort of effect mysterious names of colors and flavors have on consumers. They divided such names into categories: typical color names might be either ”common,” like dark green, or ”common descriptive,” like pine green; atypical names could be either ”unexpected descriptive” (Kermit green) or flat-out ”ambiguous” (friendly green). Nars Orgasm blush is certainly an atypical name, although I will leave it to the reader to decide whether it falls under ”unexpected descriptive” or simply ”ambiguous.”

Kahn and Miller found that unusual names were more popular, unless the person was distracted during the process of choosing — that is, the unexpected won out when subjects were given the opportunity to think about it, as a shopper at a cosmetics counter generally does. Kahn suspected that certain words (like anything to do with sex) would always spark positive responses. But instead, the key seemed to be unexpectedness itself, which essentially engages the consumer in an attempt to solve the puzzle of the name. This rapid, essentially unconscious cognitive process, Kahn and Miller wrote recently in The Journal of Consumer Research, ”results in additional (positive) attributions about the product and thus, a more favorable response.” This seems to affect not only whether a person chooses to buy something but also, oddly, how much she enjoys it.

Kahn and Miller cite two theories of mental processing that may be at work. In the case of ”unexpected descriptive” names, we may be able to solve the puzzle to our satisfaction. With the more logic-defying names, we essentially conclude that there must be some reason for it, and given the circumstances (it’s a product for sale in a market society), the reason must be positive. A spokeswoman for Nars declined to share the company’s reasons for calling blush Orgasm or Deep Throat, perhaps sensing that the mystery is good for business.


But not as interesting as this examination of how our perceptions of color are shaped by the surrounding environment in which colors exist.

1 reply
  1. 1

    This is kind of off topic, but if you want to see an incredible optical illusion on color perception, check this out:

    e-chalk color perception illusion

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