Do different accents have an impact on the effectiveness of radio advertising?
Radio advertising is an effective way of advertising to a wide range of people. In fact there are 36M weekly radio listeners in the UK, so it’s a great space to advertise. Once you’ve decided you want to create a radio advertisement there are lots to things to think about and it can be much harder to elicit your message through sounds alone. Alongside music and sound effects, the voice you use is one of the main aspects of radio advertising. Also, different voices and accents can elicit different attitudes and emotions from consumers and conjure dramatic stereotypes, both good and bad. But, can these attitudes, emotions and stereotypes impact the effectiveness of your radio advertising? We wanted to look at the literature to try and determine whether or not accents have a great impact on the effectiveness of your radio advertising or not. As of yet, we have not done our own study on the topic so the findings will be based on some literature however, watch this space!
First of all it is important to note that the literature on radio advertising and the impact of different accents is relatively sparse and there is little research on voice and radio in general. Most research focuses on pitch and there is a general acceptance that a lower-pitch is the preference for radio presenters. For example, Dubey et al. (2018) found that low-pitched voices suggested positive qualities about the speaker and that a high-pitched voice in contract suggests that the person is in a state of distress. The study was based on restaurant radio advertising. This is obviously not always the case and basically boils down to personal preference but indicates a pitch preference.
So if there is a general pitch preference, is there an accent preference?
With regards to accent, there are ample studies on language attitudes towards accents in day-to-day life. In the field of sociolinguistics, you can find hundreds of studies that look at people’s attitudes towards certain accents. In the UK, for example, the Devonshire accent is seen as much more friendly than others. It is important to note that attitudes do not equate to behaviour, just because somebody has positive or negative attitudes towards an accent or a dialect does not mean that they will act negatively or positively as a result. Therefore, when we discuss this literature, it is important to bear in mind the difference between attitudes and behaviour.
On the other hand, when advertisements elicit emotions they can be much more effective. So if an accent is used and there is a particular attitude towards that voice or accent, it could, in theory, have an impact of the effectiveness of the radio advertisement. Nevertheless, we are going to delve into the potential advantages of choosing your accent carefully when you are planning you radio advertisement.
It is important to quickly describe what is meant by ‘standard language’ and a ‘standard accent’. The ‘standard’ form of language is that the form of language which is used in official situations, by the government etc. this can be a variety that has undergone standardization whereby people were encouraged or forced to speak in a particular way in schools etc. for example. The notion of a ‘standard’ language is complicated and long-debated and we don’t have time for the ins and outs of what it actually entails and the socio-political implications behind it. The ‘standard’ accent in ‘received pronunciation’ so if you need some clarification on what we mean by a ‘standard accent’ give ‘received pronunciation’ a little Google. In some countries there are regional dialects as well as accents and therefore there is a ‘standard dialect’.
Current research on accents and the effectiveness of radio advertising
Let’s look at the literature. First of all, Morales et al. (2012) study on the role of accent standardness in message preference and recall denotes that people better recalled brands when regional accents were used. It is suggested that this might be because there was an increased attention towards the advertisement when people heard something out of the ordinary (in this case a non-standard accent). Whilst Morales et al. (2012) study suggested that the regional variety was better for brand recall (and therefore suggests that the advertisements were more effective when using regional varieties), Martin-Sanatana et al. (2014) suggest that in fact a standard accent is better for recall and recognition. However, this study does not present an statistical significance which means that there was not a big enough difference to make a statistical claim. This means that further study perhaps needs to be done to clarify these findings.
Whilst these two studies oppose one another, one favouring the standard and the other favouring the regional variety, some studies suggest that it depends on the advertisement and the product. Back in 1994 Leclerec et al. (1994) found that hedeonic brands received a higher brand attitude rating when they were pronounced with a French accent as opposed to a standard American accent. So also poses a question of foreign accents not just regional accents playing a role alongside the subject of different products. Perhaps if the products had been differerent in the Morales et al. (2012) and Martin-Sanatana et al. (2014) studies, then the results may have been different. Or, had they looked at both regional and international accents as variables.
Furthermore, Hendriks et al. (2019)’s recent study on radio commercials in Germany denotes that in product commercials, moderate accents were attributed more warmth then standard accents but the opposite was found in service commercials. This suggests that people with soft, but non-standard accents were the preferred, adding another level to our analysis. Perhaps strong accents are not preferable but softer accents are more preferable than the standard. But again only for some products!
Whilst all these studies imply some difference in the effectiveness of adverts based on different accents there have been multiple studies that suggest no difference. Schuiveling (2018)’s study based on Dutch accents reported that employing a non-standard accent did not improve brand recall. Additionally, Hendricks (2014) study reported in the Scotsmans suggested that there was no difference in an advertisement with a Scottish accent for haggis or yorkshire puddings.
So what do all these studies mean for your radio advertising? Does accent actually have an impact on the effectiveness of radio advertising?
Well, we would argue that accent does have a great impact on your advertisement but more so for certain products and regions that others. For example, there is a suggestion that some accents elicit feelings of warmth in consumers (Schuilveling, 2018) and therefore, should you wish to elicit ‘warm’ feelings in your consumers through your advertisement, you might want to consider picking a softer accent rather than a hard, standard language.
On the other hand, if you are advertising a service that needs to be extremely clear and factual, you might be better off using a standard accent. Another thing to note is that whilst the accent may have some impact, the tone, pitch, and other elements of the voice must be considered. If your advertisement is all in a really high pitch but equally very monotone, then its effectiveness may be extremely limited.
Also you need to consider language attitudes towards particular accents. Whilst, it is not fair, many accents in the UK have much more negative connotations or can be harder to understand than others so if your advertisement is nation wide you might want to choose a neutral accent. On the other hand however, if you advertisement is regional a familiar accent might be refreshing and positive to hear. Despite The Scotsman claiming that accents did not matter in advertising, there have been studies to suggest that regional varieties can have a positive impact as Schuiveling (2018) denotes that there is ‘an activation of region-of-origin associations’ which can be very positive.
To summarise, although it is not clear cut:
- We would probably suggest using a netural accent for a national campaign
- A regional accent for a localised campaign
- Unless, for example you campaign is selling Kentucky Fried Chicken, a Kentucky accent could be really effective
It would be hugely beneficial to do a detailed study on the impact of various linguistic elements on the effectiveness of radio advertising, but for the meantime we can only speculate on the existing literature. Language attitudes are a major area of interest for sociolinguists and can reflect many socio-political issues, so whilst some studies suggest there is no benefit or disadvantage to using certain accents, this cannot be completely true. However, it may be that accent alone is not (often) strong enough to impact the effectiveness of a radio ad, but rather a mixture of elements together can make a big impact.
- Martin-Santana et al. (2014). Effectiveness of radio spokesperson’s gender, vocal pitch and accent and the use of music in radio advertising. Business research quarterely.
- Scottish accents ‘don’t improve sales of products’ in ads 2015, The Scotsman
- Schuiveling, D., (2018) What’s in an accent? Accessing the effectiveness of a regional variety in radio advertising
- Dubey et al. (2018) ‘How Accent and Pitch Affect Persuasiveness in Radio Advertising’.
- Hendriks, B. et al. (2019). The effect on different degrees of regional accentedness in radio commercials: an experiment with German consumers. Journal of International Consumer Marketing.
- Morales et al. (2012). The role of accent standardness in message preference and recall. Journal Advertising.
- Leclerec et al. (1994). Foreign branding and its effects on product perceptions and attitudes. Journal of Marketing Research
- The BBC
- Science direct
- British accent stereotypes