Skip Navigation

What’s in a name? Let this psych professor tell you

November 28, 2012

Alexis GrotofskyThe name of a product plays a major role in how the consumer perceives it, Psychology Professor Alexis Grosofsky learned in a recent study.

She and a few student research assistants asked a group of participants to rate the masculinity and femininity of fragrances designed for men and women. The fragrances, however, were mislabeled half the time, causing the participants’ perceptions to change.

For example, they rated fragrances designed and labeled for men a 3.4 on a 7-point scale where 1 was very masculine and 7 was very feminine. When the male-designed fragrance was mislabeled as for women, they rated it a 4.6.

Similarly, participants rated fragrance designed and labeled for women a 4.7 but a 3.6 when the same fragrance was mislabeled as for men.

Grosofsky and her research assistants presented their research earlier this year at the Midwestern Psychological Association Conference. She was inspired to conduct this research after she and her students read about a study done by Herz & von Clef, which assigned positive and negative labels to the same odor.

For instance, Herz & von Clef gave one test group a pine tree scent named “Christmas tree” and they gave the same scent to another group but called it “spray disinfectant.” They found the participants perceived the positively labeled scents much more pleasantly opposed to the negatively named ones even though they were the same scent.

The takeaway from this study and Grosofsky’s is that a company should not underestimate the importance of a product’s name.

“From a marketing perspective, you need to choose a name with good implications, especially if there is a smell associated with it. You want people to like your product,” she said.