According to researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology and Vanderbilt University, lower pitches in voices or music in advertisements make consumers believe that the product is larger than it actually is.
Sound is one of the fundamental elements in any form of marketing communications, but Michael Lowe, assistant professor of marketing at Scheller College of Business, and Kelly Haws, associate professor of marketing at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management, says that most marketers don’t have a firm grasp as to what it communicates to its customers.
“Research to date suggests that managers too often select music and spokespeople by intuition, with limited understanding regarding how these elements might affect actual product perceptions,” Lowe and Haws writes. “Some degree of importance, then, should be given to understanding what is actually being communicated about the product at a sensory level.”
Their paper, named “Sounds Big: The Effects of Acoustic Pitch on Product Perceptions” was published in the Journal of Marketing Research and shows six different studies on how pitch affects consumers’ “cross-modal correspondence,” – the compatibility of stimuli perceived by one sense, like sound, with another sensory experience, like sight.
One of the studies have found that differences in pitch affect one’s perception of size. Participants had listened to a radio advertisement of a fictitious new sandwich from a fictitious sandwich chain. The spokesperson’s voice was digitally altered to be higher or lower. Results show that the participants who had heard the ad with the lower-pitched voice had thought that the sandwich was significantly larger than those who had heard the higher pitched version.
The same holds true for the pitch of the music itself. In another study, participants have views a TV ad without a voiceover for a laptop and had to answer several perception-related questions. The ones who viewed the ad with lower pitched music had thought that the laptop was bigger than the ones who viewed the higher-pitched ad.
The researchers think that this paper will be useful for marketers and market researchers, as it offers important insight on advertisements whilst setting the stage for further studying.
“Even small cues such as differences in acoustic pitch,” they wrote, “can lead to measurably different perceptions about the products with which they are paired. We demonstrate an important way in which symbolism in sound extends beyond word symbolism, thus expanding the horizons of research in ‘sound symbolism’ and sensory marketing more generally.”