Professor of Marketing
Journal Article | Journal of Consumer Research | 32 | December 2005
Name Letter Branding: Valence Transfers when Product Specific Needs Are Active
People like the letters from their own name more than other letters of the alphabet, an observation termed the name letter effect (Nuttin 1985). While correlational studies suggest the possibility that such name letter preferences might influence major life decisions (cf. Pelham, Mirenberg, and Jones 2002), third variable explanations have been debated (Gallucci 2003; Pelham et al. 2003).Moreover, recent laboratory experiments have failed to find name letter influences on more mundane consumer attitudes (Hodson and Olson 2004), as well as initial studies of the authors' own.The authors provide experimental evidence immune to third-variable explanations for what they call name letter branding: Respondents were more likely to choose a brand, when its name included name letters than when it did not. Most important, they delineate several potential mechanisms underlying the effect and provide evidence in support of a two-stage mechanism. During stage 1, an active need to self-enhance increases the positive valence of name letters themselves. During stage 2, that positive name letter valence transfers to product specific attributes (e.g., taste of a beverage). Their evidence is that activating a product relevant need (e.g., need to drink) boosts the influence of this (transferred) valence when respondents form a brand preference (e.g., of beverages).This finding cannot be explained by reason-based choice, global valence transfer from name letters to products, transfer of meaning from name letters to product, or the elaboration likelihood model. Consistent with the 2-stage model, they find across 5 studies that name letter branding influences choices only when the need to self-enhance or product relevant needs (e.g., to drink) are active.