January 13, 2006


You wouldn't call a football team the New York Giantesses. And you want your big, tough sport utility vehicle to have a name that ends in a masculine "o" such as "Durango" or "Bronco" rather than a feminine "a" like "Sonata."

Brands have gender associations, says Eric Yorkston, assistant professor of marketing at the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. Consumers, he has found in several studies, appear better able to recall the names of new brands when the gender of the names agrees with the perceived gender of their product class.

"This research is the first to demonstrate that gender agreement between a brand name and its product class affects both brand attitude formation and brand recall," says Yorkston.

The work of Yorkston and co-researcher Gustavo E. DeMello, with both U.S. and South American consumers, is detailed in the September 2005 issue of The Journal of Consumer Research in an article titled "Linguistic Gender Marking and Categorization."

Yorkston and DeMello examined the impact of linguistic gender in both Spanish and English. Spanish has a formal gender classification based on the structure of the word itself. For example, a noun ending in "a" usually is considered feminine while one ending in "o" is masculine. English, by contrast, has a semantic gender system where gender is based on the word's meaning. In English, for example, a ship is traditionally thought of as female, referred to as she, and given a feminine name.

Yorkston and DeMello made up eight fictitious brand names then assigned them to several product categories of men's and women's footwear and alcoholic beverages. These two product categories were selected because each contains products that possessstrong masculine or feminine semantic associations.

In Spanish, beer (cerveza) and margarita are linguistically feminine and white wine (vino) and whiskey are linguistically masculine. But in consumer's minds, beer and whiskey have more masculine associations and white wine and margaritas have more feminine associations. The researchers changed the brand names' genders by giving them an "a" or an "o" at the end. Then they ran the names past 162 business students from a metropolitan Chilean university.

The students read four beverage and four footwear product scenarios consisting of a brand name and a product description. After completing two unrelated time-filler tasks, the Chilean students were asked to list as many brand names as they could recall.

"Participants' free recall of brand names was significantly higher when the brand name's gender agreed with the product's formal gender," says Yorkston.

Next they asked 93 business students from a metropolitan U.S. university to take similar tests.

"When presented with a semantically feminine product, the U.S. students preferred a formally feminine name over a formally masculine name," says Yorkston. And they were better able to recall those brands that showed linguistic gender agreement.

One thing the researchers confirmed was that the significant "leakage" of formal gender cues, such as the masculine "o" and the feminine "a" of Spanish into a semantic language such as English.

In summary:

"In the case of a new brand, we can expect that consumers will better recall a brand whose gender agrees with the product's formal gender," says Yorkston. "We also know that consumers will more highly evaluate a brand whose gender agrees with the product's semantic gender."


Elaine Cole
PR Manager
Neeley School of Business