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By Vanderbilt University

Lower pitches in voices or music in advertisements lead consumers to infer a larger product size, a new study has found.

Sound is a fundamental element of nearly all marketing communications, from commercials to spokespeople and sales associates. But Michael Lowe, assistant professor of marketing in Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business, and Kelly Haws, associate professor of marketing in Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management, found that marketers don’t have a firm grasp on what sound communicates to customers.

“Research to date suggests that managers too often select music and spokespeople by intuition, with limited understanding regarding how these elements might affect actual product perceptions,” Lowe and Haws wrote in their paper for the Journal of Marketing Research. “Some degree of importance, then, should be given to understanding what is actually being communicated about the product at a sensory level.”

The co-authors showed in six different studies how the effects of acoustic pitch on consumer beliefs depend on “cross-modal correspondence,” defined as the compatibility of stimuli perceived by one sense, such as sound, with a sensory experience in another, like sight.

For instance, one study found that acoustic pitch differences in voice affect perceptions of size. Participants listened to a radio advertisement for a new sandwich at a fictitious sandwich chain where a spokesperson’s voice was digitally altered to be higher or lower. Participants who heard the ad featuring the lower-pitched voice believed the sandwich was significantly larger than those who heard the higher-pitched version.

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