The language of emotion: Ad slogans in native tongues connect to consumers' emotions

December 15, 2008

In our globalized world, consumers are exposed to marketing messages in many languages. But a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research says messages expressed in people's native languages are most effective at triggering emotional reactions.

Authors Stefano Puntoni, Bart de Langhe, and Stijn van Osselaer (Erasmus University, the Netherlands) studied bilingual and trilingual populations in Europe. They tested different slogans with participants and found differences in how the messages were perceived. "Our findings show that, in general, messages expressed in consumers' native languages tend to be perceived as more emotional than messages expressed in their second language," the researchers write.

The authors believe this effect is not due to differences in languages or participants' difficulty in understanding ad copy written in foreign languages. "We find that the emotional advantage of consumers' native language depends on personal memories and the language context in which those memories were generated. Thus reading or hearing a word (unconsciously) triggers memories of situations in which that word played a role...Because consumers usually have more personal memories with words in their native language than in their second language, marketing messages in their native language tend to be perceived as more emotional."

In the course of their study, the researchers found that the effect is more pronounced in women than in men. They believe that women have a stronger memory for emotional events than men.

"We found that, regardless of whether their native language was French or Dutch, native language slogans were perceived as more emotional than second language slogans," write the authors. "All else being equal, it is generally preferable to communicate with consumers using their own native language, as doing so should result in more emotional messages."
Stefano Puntoni, Bart de Langhe, and Stijn M.J. van Osselaer. "Bilingualism and the Emotional Intensity of Advertising Language." Journal of Consumer Research: April 2009.

University of Chicago Press Journals

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