Lower pitched voice means larger products, study reveals

By Tracy West

- Last updated on GMT

'Through six studies, the authors find that when associated with a product, lower pitch in voice or music leads consumers to infer a larger product size.' ©iStock/iLeXX
'Through six studies, the authors find that when associated with a product, lower pitch in voice or music leads consumers to infer a larger product size.' ©iStock/iLeXX

Related tags: Marketing, Perception, Sense

We’re all familiar with the saying ‘size matters’ but a new study has found that pitch matters too. 

According to the research, the acoustic pitch of sound in an advertisement can affect how the listener perceives the product’s size, with a lower pitch leading to a belief of larger size relative to a higher pitch.

“There is a growing interest in how firm-influenced sensory experiences affect consumer behavior, or what marketing researchers have termed ‘sensory marketing.’

“Consumers are constantly influenced by the sounds, sights, tastes, smells, and physical sensations in marketing messages or retail environments.”

In the paper, which appeared in the Journal of Marketing Research​, the team said that some degree of importance should be given to understanding what is actually being communicated about a product at a sensory level, beyond spoken and written language.

“We do not just watch commercials; we also hear them. We do not just see objects in a store; we pick them up and feel them and even smell them,”​ the study explained.

“Our brains are thus constantly tasked with integrating and synthesizing information from disparate sensory inputs in a coherent manner, thereby developing implicit associations between particular attributes of stimuli in one sense and attributes pertaining to other senses.”

Though sensory experiences have often been studied in isolation, sensory inputs are most often experienced and interpreted in conjunction with others.

For example, taste evaluations of a food or drink involve not only taste but also smell, sight, touch and sound.

A stimulus perceived by one sense is most often naturally accompanied by stimuli affecting other senses.

Dr Michael L. Lowe, assistant professor of marketing at Scheller School of Business, Georgia Institute of Technology and Dr Kelly L. Haws, associate professor of marketing, Owen School of Management at Vanderbilt University, demonstrated that acoustic pitch can affect consumer beliefs, evaluations, and behavior due to its cross-modal associations with physical size.

Study details

In a series of six studies, one of the studies tested whether the acoustic pitch of an advertisement would influence perceptions of product size.

Ninety-four undergraduate students took part of whom 51% were female. In the main study, all participants heard one of two versions of an advertisement for the new Southwest Turkey Club sandwich at Cosmo’s, a fictitious sandwich chain.

No visual cues were provided and all participants saw the same screen while the ad played.

After hearing the ad through headphones, participants were asked several questions regarding their perceptions of the advertised sandwich. The majority of these were intended to reduce suspicion regarding the main point of the study.

Among the questions answered, all participants rated their perception of the size of the advertised sandwich, using a seven-point scale anchored on “much smaller than average” and “much larger than average.”

Consistent with the professors’ predictions, participants who heard the ad featuring the lower voice believed the advertised sandwich was significantly larger than those who heard the higher-pitched version.

A second study revolved around two versions of an audio advertisement for a new hamburger at a fast food chain.

One version of the commercial was intended to facilitate visual mental imagery by describing the product more clearly.

The second version also introduced the product but was much less descriptive.  

Both advertisements were voiced by the same actor; the word counts of both versions were nearly equal; and both versions were recorded over the same instrumental audio track.

Only the pitch of the actor’s voice was manipulated – with high pitch and low pitch versions made.

All in all, 281 people took part. Results revealed that participants in the high-visual imagery condition indicated that they were able to visualise the product with greater ease than those in the low-visual imagery condition and so the manipulation of visualisation was considered successful.

As for pitch, there was no difference between pitch conditions in the low-imagery ad condition however, there was a significant contrast for individuals in the high-imagery ad condition – when visualisation of the product was helped through a more descriptive ad, the low-pitched spokesman voice led participants to infer greater product size. There was also a significant main effect of imagery condition: the high-imagery condition resulted in larger perceptions of size overall.

The impact of sound’s structural elements

“While we provide evidence of the impact of pitch on consumers’ perceptions of size and resulting behavior, future research could more thoroughly examine the effect of pitch on product evaluations and purchase intentions,”​ they said.

The professors have said that because their study represents a first look at acoustic cross-modal correspondence in marketing, there is significant potential for further research.

Another area they are keen to explore is the impact of structural elements of sound in contexts, such as shops or websites, where a sound element is associated with a brand or set of products rather than a single product.

For example, most retailers carry a wide variety of products, and it is unclear how background music in a retail environment might affect perceptions of various items on display or even the retailer itself.

Source: Journal of Marketing Research

Published online ahead of print: doi.org/10.1509/jmr.14.0300

“Sounds Big: The Effects of Acoustic Pitch on Product Perceptions.”

Authors: Michael Lowe and Kelly Haws

Related topics: Science

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