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The Secret Sauce in Promoting Your Healthy Food Product: Keep your Brand Name Sweet and Short

Relevant topics Archive, Strategy

  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    The length of a brand name influences perception of and preference for a product.
  • Application:
    When marketing food products, companies can adopt shorter, phonetically appropriate brand names to influence how consumers judge and choose a healthier product.
  • Picture this: you're wandering the aisles of a grocery store, looking for a healthy snack. You come across two seemingly identical products, but one has a brand name that's as long as a Shakespearean monologue, while the other has a snappy, short name that's easier to remember. Which one are you more likely to trust as the healthier choice? Did you rely on your instincts and beliefs about the product rather than scrutinizing its nutritional label? 


    As consumers, our food choices are heavily influenced by our intuition (Chan & Zhang, 2022; Motoki & Togawa, 2022). In turn, our intuition is largely shaped by branding elements. From brand names to logos and even the personality associated with a brand, these cues offer us valuable information that guides our purchasing decisions.


    For instance, foods packaged in green or blue colors are often perceived as healthier, while those in red packaging may trigger a different response (Huang & Lu, 2015; Schuldt, 2013). But what about brand names? Can a simple name affect how we perceive the healthfulness of a product? 

    Healthy eating presents itself as a complex landscape. As poor dietary habits and excessive consumption are key contributors to the growing global health crisis (Shelley, 2012; Willett et al., 2019), health initiatives on food choices to tackle this crisis have proven to have a limited effect (Grunert & Wills, 2007). We still do not fully know or understand how consumers evaluate the healthfulness of foods. What we do know is that they rely on their individual experiences and environment to make this evaluation (Chan & Zhang, 2022; Nisbett & Ross, 1980). Brand attributes are the the first to be considered during the decision making process, such as brand names, logos, and brand personalities. They play a crucial role in helping consumers mitigate the risks associated with food decisions (Chandon, 2013).


    Out of all these attributes, brand names come front and center in shaping consumer perceptions. They are more than just labels; they convey connotations and associations that influence our decision-making processes. Brand names are among the most recognizable features (Cavanagh et al., 2014) of any product. They often serve as the initial point of contact between consumers and a brand, setting the tone for expectations and influencing the perceived risk. Sometimes, brand names can even be more influential than the product price and physical appearance (Dawar & Parker, 1994). 


    New research (Motoki, K., & Pathak, A., 2023) suggests that shorter brand names are not only catchier but also convey a stronger sense of healthfulness, making them the go-to choice if looking to promote healthier food options. As a marketer, understanding this can transform the way you position your offerings.

    The Psychology Behind a Brand Name Length

    As marketeters, we're constantly seeking innovative ways to capture consumers' attention and influence their buying decisions. When it comes to healthy food branding, it turns out that the length of brand names can play a significant role in shaping customers' expectations of healthiness and, subsequently, their preferences for healthier food options. 


    Two psychological principles underpin this theory and the latest research proving it: 

    • Iconicity of quantity:  the length of a word can signify a higher magnitude of the quantity it represents. For instance, the word "big" is shorter than "bigger," which, in turn, is shorter than "biggest." The extra syllables and phonemes indicate increasing quantities of "bigness" (Haspelmath, 2008). Phonemes are the smallest unit of sound/speech that distinguish one word from another, e.g. the element p in “tap,” which separates that word from “tab,” “tag,” and “tan.”
    • Iconicity of cohesion: words with closer meaning tend to have more similar forms, while those distant in concept have less cohesive forms. The more often concepts are used and the closer they are in meaning, the more their words become phonologically fused.


    So, how do these principles relate to brand name length? Well, brand names often exhibit variations in length, and the iconicity of quantity and cohesion is a handy tool to understand how consumers perceive longer versus shorter brand names. 

    Longer names, such as Green Gourmet Organics and Bob's Red Mill Natural Foods, may suggest a more complex or detailed offering. Shorter brand names, like Naked, KIND and Freshly, can convey simplicity and directness, they are seen as healthier. Based on the perceived potency of brand names and the expectations they create, consumers tend to prefer products associated with concise labels (Motoki et al., 2021; Motoki, Park, et al., 2022). 


    What do we mean by potency? When we encounter a shorter brand name, our brains instinctively associate it with qualities like simplicity and lightness. This, in turn, leads to the expectation that the associated food product is healthier. On the other hand, longer brand names are perceived as more potent, and foods with these names may not convey the same healthiness impression. 

    The effect of name length can vary though, depending on the specific sounds present in the brand names. Certain sounds can counteract the healthiness effect (Motoki, Park, et al., 2022). For instance, names containing voiced stops and back vowels (e.g.,/o/,/u/) like BoldBrew Organics and Supreme Source Health,  may be perceived as more potent and might not lead to the same level of preference for healthy foods. Understanding these nuances is crucial in effectively applying this principle to your neuromarketing strategy.

    The Power of Short Brand Names 

    As marketers, we have a powerful tool at our disposal. This research findings provide us with a practical and strategic approach to leverage the length of brand names for healthier food products. 

    In terms of branding strategies, companies in the food industry (from manufacturers to restaurants) can use shorter brand names when looking to rebrand or launch healthy food products. It can help convey healthfulness and improve the perception of their products. 

    Policymakers and health organizations can also leverage brand name length as part of public health campaigns to help shift consumer perceptions.

    At the same time, raising consumer awareness of the influence of branding elements can empower individuals to make healthier choices. 


    If you're specifically in the business of promoting nutritious foods, here are some valuable applications of this new research.

    • Keep it short and sweet: Opt for shorter and memorable brand names when introducing new healthy food products. These names are more likely to create a perception of healthiness in consumers' minds. Short names are easier to process and remember, especially when consumers are making quick, on-the-spot decisions. For example, if you're launching a new line of organic snacks, a succinct brand name can enhance the perception of healthiness.
    • Sound matters: Pay close attention to the phonemes in your brand name. Ensure that the words you use have sounds  with lower potency, that evoke healthier attributes. Including softer, more melodic sounds could positively impact the association between your brand and healthy products in consumers' minds.
    • Market healthy menus differently: If you manage a restaurant or a food establishment with a focus on health-conscious dining, consider adopting shorter names for your menu items. This can significantly impact customers' preferences, encouraging them to choose healthier options.
    • Test and refine: A/B testing can be a powerful tool to determine how different brand names affect consumers' perceptions of your products. Experiment with brand name length, phonetic attributes, and different wording to find the sweet spot that resonates with your target audience. Don't rely solely on intuition when choosing a brand name. Understand the psychology behind it and use data-driven insights to make informed decisions.
    • Tailor to your audience: Consider your target demographic when choosing a brand name length. What works for one audience might not work for another. Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach.


    You might also want to take into account:

    • Your product type: Consider the nature of the food product you're marketing. The effect of name length may vary based on whether the product is perceived as healthy or indulgent. For indulgent products, a different approach might be more effective.
    • Consumer motivation: What are the goals and motivations of your target audience? Consumers with health-oriented goals are more likely to respond positively to this principle, while those seeking indulgence may not be as influenced.Visual information: Images of the actual product or images used in packaging may alter the impact of brand name length on healthiness perception and preferences. 
    • Ingredient list: The length of the ingredient list on packaging may also influence healthiness perceptions. Ensure that your product's ingredient list aligns with the healthiness image you want to convey.


    And there you have it! The length of a brand name is not just a medley of letters but a powerful psychological tool that can influence your customers' perceptions of your products. Next time you're brainstorming a name for your healthy snack, remember the spellbinding power of brevity and phonetics.

  • The Secret Sauce in Promoting Your Healthy Food Product: Keep your Brand Name Sweet and Short
  • Reference:

    Motoki, K., & Pathak, A. (2023). The length of brand names influences the expectation of healthiness in foods and preference for healthy foods. Psychology & Marketing, 40, 1850–1862. https://doi.org/10.1002/mar.21859

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