FEATURE29 November 2021

Losing meaning: Meaningless terms and consumers

x Sponsored content on Research Live and in Impact magazine is editorially independent.
Find out more about advertising and sponsorship.

Behavioural science Features Impact Leisure & Arts

Complicated product terms are not a new thing. But could they be putting off consumers? By Liam Kay.

Three people ordering food at a restaurant via waiter

Imagine the scene. You enter a restaurant, sit down and open the menu. Two options jump out at you. The first, steak, chips and bearnaise sauce. The other, wild orecchiette with invigorated aubergine sliders and market sungold. There is a good chance that your order would come medium-rare.

Meaningless terms are littered across the restaurant trade and are commonplace in numerous other industries too, as a way of showcasing premium products or making them more enticing to customers. A recent study examined the impact these terms have on products’ success, and found that in many cases they were actually off-putting to the majority of people.

The paper, Meaningless Descriptors Increase Price Judgments and Decrease Quality Judgments, examines the difference between ‘meaningful’ product descriptions (those that provide clear semantic meaning or context) and ‘meaningless’ descriptions (which are not understood by consumers either in isolation or in context) on potential customers’ price judgements and subjective quality expectations.

Ernest Baskin, co-author of the ...