Does the language gender system of English and Spanish affect consumers' perception of brands?

July 18, 2005

Is a car masculine or feminine? It's not a trick question. In Spanish, car is el automobile, making it masculine. But in English, a car is a car and what's more important is its make. But, a study published in the September 2005 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research reveals that linguistic gender plays a role as a categorization tool for brand evaluation and recall in both English and Spanish.

'This article examines the dual roles that gender markers fulfill in language systems," write Eric Yorkston and Gustavo de Mello (University of Southern California). "This research is the first to demonstrate that gender agreement between a brand name and its product class affects both brand attitude formation and brand encoding."

While it may seem odd to lump two very different languages together in a study, their differences are precisely what's so interesting when it comes to assigning brand identities based on language. As the authors explain, the difference lies between the formal gender markers of Spanish versus the more semantic coding of English.

"In the formal gender system of Spanish, consistent formal gender marking enhances brand recall whereas semantic product associations drive brand evaluation. In the semantic gender system of English, formal cues determine initial brand name gender, but congruent semantic associations between brand name and product category drive improved brand evaluations and brand recall."

These gender associations play an important role in how consumers perceive a brand and evaluate it, particularly when no other information about the product is available. "Consumers spontaneously utilize brand name gender associations and incorporate them into their evaluations of branded products, rewarding those brand name / product pairings that provide consistent gender cues, even when additional product information is available," the authors conclude.
Linguistic Gender Marking and Categorization. Eric Yorkston and Gustavo E. de Mello. Journal of Consumer Research. September 2005.

University of Chicago Press Journals

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