Associations with the Incomprehensible: Foreign Language Increases Authenticity Perceptions and Preferences
51 Pages Posted: 1 Jul 2022
Date Written: June 29, 2022
Language is pervasive and hence a common factor in people’s decision making. Prior research has mostly studied the effects of comprehensible language, language that communicates a literal meaning to consumers – on behavior and attitudes. In this paper, we investigate the potential for language that is incomprehensible to a given consumer to nevertheless impact willingness to pay and choice. In particular, we propose that potentially meaningful incomprehensible language can convey associations beyond literal meaning. Using the domain of foreign language, we demonstrate that adding text in an foreign language unreadable to the consumer to a known native language in the description of foreign food significantly increases perceptions of authenticity, uniqueness, and quality, resulting in higher valuations and greater likelihood of choice, while holding the country of origin constant. Thus, we show that an incomprehensible cue creates consumer value by instilling feelings of intangible experiences and that those feelings impact decisions. We test our framework using secondary field data as well as experiments, including with consequential choices.
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