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How does mirroring language impact sales? The science behind what brands say

By Chloe Rushmere

Language, something so fundamental to humanity but often taken for granted, has recently become an important topic of conversation. Marketers, advertisers and brands are taking a keen interest in understanding how analysing the language of customers and consumers can result in faster, better and more personalised product offerings.

In the Psychology and Marketing Journal, researcher Pamela Schindler looks at how the use of carefully chosen images and videos has long been accepted to be critical of effective advertising. However, Reece, Van den Berg and Li (senior researchers at Michigan State University’s Department of Advertising) highlight a surge in research concentrating on the language used within advertising text, and how this can affect a consumer’s perceptions of a brand and product.

Relative Insight, which analyses brand and consumer language and transforms it into data, is at the forefront of language analysis. We understand that language in advertising isn’t just informative- it can have an important effect on behaviour. NPL and Advertising by noted American psychologist Steve Andreas found that the effectiveness of a message can be changed completely by altering just one word. In addition the different types of words used can have different effects on reactions to, and ability to recall messages, messages and the ability to recall them. demonstrating the importance of language choice in advertising.

Creating impactful imagery with words

Recent studies have found that concrete words (i.e. words which classify things for us such as table, smoke, mist, glass) are more easily recalled and better in evoking consumers’ desires than abstract words ( i.e. descriptive words such as love, success, freedom). Similarly Semantic Word Norms (by Toglia and Battig of the University of Florida’s Department of Psychology) explains that words considered to have high imagery value, which are known to arouse consumer’s personal experiences can be easier to remember by a consumer compared to words with lower imagery value. In the same way, words appearing frequently have been shown to have a better effect on consumers’ ability to recall product advertisement compared to lower frequency words. This is further supported by Ke and Wang (linguistic experts in Wuhan, China) who highlighted that a successful tagline usually contains common words. However, it is important to take into account the context in which these words are being used, as high frequency words may not be appropriate in certain situations. Monroe Friedman (Professor of Psychology at Michigan University) points out in his research that when choosing a brand name, most brands use low frequency words or neologisms e.g. “Canon” and “Google”. This highlights the complex relationship that language has with branding and advertising, and suggests that better understanding of language use could be greatly beneficial to a brand.

Personalise and mirror the audience

In his book Cass Sunstein defines ‘fragmentation’ as the grouping of audiences into different speech type communities. This classification has become important as the Internet now encompasses a wide spectrum of different media outlets, which all encourage audiences to develop interests and needs. Therefore, in order to increase the accuracy and effect of adverts, advertisers personalise the content so prospective customers are swayed towards the needs of the target audience, information that Relative Insight can gather and analyse.

Connie Eble (Professor of English at UNC) points out in her book Slang & Sociability that mimicking the vocabulary of a particular group allows members to feel a sense of belonging and to view the speaker as someone that they can relate to. For instance, the use of slang in marketing messages has been found to increase viewers’ understanding of the message and help them better relate.

Research to support this in the field of advertising comes from Tse & Soergel (researchers from the University of Maryland) who have shown that the use of consumer level vocabulary within advert text can encourage consumers who are watching to feel closer to the brand.. When consumers feel closer to the brand, it increases sales and brand equity overall. The Journal of Consumer Behaviour by Moss, Gunn and Heller of Buckinghamshire New University confirms that many website designers are currently making use of the strategy of mirroring consumers’ language in website text design to increase the success of their messages. It is obvious then, that using the appropriate language is critical in enabling change in consumers’ beliefs and behaviours, as well perceptions about brands.

Consumers are more sensitive than ever to mass marketing, and more and more they expect personalisation and customisation. People are coming to expect that messages and products will be tailored to just for them. For example, people want to select hair and beauty products designed for the specific needs of their skin; they want notifications when items they desire are available nearby or on sale; and they want taxis, hotel rooms and meals on demand. Advertisers and marketers need to adapt their messaging to make consumers feel that they are being addressed individually.

Based on research performed by Lancaster University.

Andreas, S. (2008). NPL and Advertising. Steve Andreas’ NLP Blog retrieved from
Eble, C. C. (1996). Slang & sociability: In-­‐group language among college students. University of North Carolina Press.
Friedman, M. (1985). The changing language of a consumer society: Brand name usage in popular American novels in the postwar era.
Journal of Consumer Research, 927-­‐938.
Ke, Q., & Wang, W. (2013). The Adjective Frequency in Advertising English Slogans. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 3(2), 275-­‐284.
Moss, G., Gunn, R., & Heller, J. (2006). Some men like it black, some women like it pink: consumer implications of differences in male and female website design. Journal of Consumer behaviour, 5(4), 328-­‐341.
Reece ,B. B., Vanden Bergh, B. G., & Li, H. (1994). What makes a slogan memorable and who remembers it. Journal of Current Issues & Research in Advertising, 16(2), 41-­‐57.
Schindler, P. S. (1986) ‘Color and Contrast in Magazine Advertising’, Psychology and Marketing, 3, 69-78
Sunstein, C. R. (2001). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Toglia, M.P. and Battig, W.F. (1978), Handbook of Semantic word Norms.
Tse, T., & Soergel, D. (2003). Exploring medical expressions used by consumers and the media: an emerging view of consumer health vocabularies. In AMIA Annual Symposium Proceedings (Vol. 2003, p. 674). American Medical Informatics Association.