Mouthwatering Words: The New Branding Strategy


Which one of these shapes is a kiki and which is a bouba?
Did you choose the curvy shape as a bouba and the jagged one as a kiki?
Do you think it was an arbitrary choice?
The names are made up with no inherent meaning, but there’s nothing arbitrary about your selections. Upwards of 95% of people make the same choice. They do so in nearly every language on the planet and at ages as young as 2‏½ years.

Names matter.
Even nonsensical names evoke perceptions. When it comes to packaged foods, the name precedes the taste, so good branding appeals to the palate with words. The words need to stimulate perceptions and connections in the shopper’s mind that hint at the deliciousness inside. Think of product names like ‘Twinkies,’ ‘Miracle Whip,’ and ‘Gatorade’— completely meaningless yet somehow evocative.

The latest trend is food names that simulate eating.
Brand strategists have latched onto something called inward wandering brand names. They want names that, when spoken, mimic the act of eating. The names are ‘inward wandering’ because the articulation of them causes muscle movement and mouth activity that starts with the lips and ends with the throat.

How to eat your words.
The ideal inward wandering word would begin with p, b, or m.
A front-of-the-mouth vowel should come next (a, e, i, ā, ē).
The concluding syllable pulls it over the tongue and into the esophagus with a back-of-the-mouth vowel (o, u, ä, ō, ü).

An outward wandering word is just what you think.
It mimics movements of the mouth that simulate spitting or vomiting.
K, h, and g are the best back-of-the-mouth consonants to begin an outward wandering word.
Follow one of them up with a back-to-front vowel and consonant sequence and you’re basically spewing in an abstract fashion.

It sounds like marketing mumbo jumbo, but it works.
Numerous studies have established the ability of an inward wandering brand name to make a product seem more palatable. It works across languages, allowing for differing phonetics and speech mechanics. It’s effective whether you’re reading silently or saying the words aloud. Of course since we’re seeing inward wandering brand names in the marketplace, you can be sure that the technique translates into higher purchase rates and a willingness among consumers to pay higher prices.


One Response to Mouthwatering Words: The New Branding Strategy

  1. Joe says:

    That marketers try to create names that will make food-like products sound tasty is a point that needs making, but Gatorade and Miracle Whip aren’t perhaps the best examples.

    Gatorade was developed (as far as I know) as an electrolyte replacer for the U. Florida team, the Gators, and the -ade was added to liken it to lemonade, i.e., a pleasantly fruity, citrusy drink. That it’s some of the nastiest tasting stuff around was something they had to get over through that latter sleight of name.

    Miracle Whip was likewise named to fall in the realm of whipped creamy salad dressings. Again, the Miracle part is marketing mumbo jumbo in some ways, but it’s not an arbitrary name like kiki or bouba. (and again, they had to call it Miracle, or something like that, to get people over the fact that it’s a nasty-tasting slimy mess. Perhaps the “miracle” was that you no longer had to make your own salad cream.)

    Bouba, while it may have roots in the name-generating conventions you discuss, would suggest something round to anyone whose language includes reference to bubos, or bubonic (as in plague), since those are round. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with that, or Latin, would automatically associate it with roundness.

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