The sound of branding: An analysis of the initial phonemes of popular brand names

Abhishek Pathak (Lead / Corresponding author), Carlos Velasco, Charles Spence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
622 Downloads (Pure)


In the marketing literature, the ‘K effect’ refers to the claim that the letter K is overrepresented as the initial letter of brand names. To date, however, most findings have only considered the frequency of the written letters incorporated into brand names. Here, we argue that since letters sometimes sound different when pronounced in different words (e.g., ‘C’ in Cartier vs. Cisco), a phonemic analysis of the initial phonemes is likely to be more insightful than merely a comparison of the written form (as reported by previous researchers). With this in mind, the initial phonemes of top brand names were analyzed and compared with: (1) words in the dictionary; (2) a corpus of contemporary American English; and (3) the most popular current children’s names in the USA. We also analyzed a different list of top brands, including both corporate brand names (e.g., Procter & Gamble) as well as the product-related brand names (e.g., Pantene). We conclude by reporting the most underrepresented [vowels (/aʊ/, /ɜː/, /ɔɪ/, /ɔː/) and consonants (/r/, /ʒ/, /l/, /θ/)] and overrepresented [vowels (/iː/, /əʊ/) and consonants (/j/, /z/, /f/, /dʒ/, /p/, /j/, /t/)] initial phonemes in the brand names vis-à-vis the current linguistic naming conventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)339–354
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Brand Management
Issue number3
Early online date17 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - May 2020


  • Brand names
  • K effect
  • Naming conventions
  • Phonemes
  • Phonetic symbolism
  • Sound branding

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Marketing


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