You say potato, I say potahto – why attitudes and accents matter for researchers

We’ve all seen Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams on their respective evening news programs, showing the U.S. – ever so subtly – that no accent is the best kind of accent. In the research industry, we’ve also seen the promotional material lauding a telephone facility for having bilingual-but-accent-less or non-regional-dialect-speaking interviewers. This makes sense, as most practitioners want to appeal to the masses, assuming that if an interviewer from the Pacific Northwest calls a customer in New England there is an unspoken disconnect: You are not like me; I don’t want to share my life with you.

While it makes sense to cast the widest net, I wonder if maybe some researchers are missing out on the connections that could be made when accents do come into play, as not all accents are created equal. According to research from Rochester, N.Y., research company Harris Interactive, Americans like people who speak like they do. Across the board, adults tend to agree that people who share their accent are the most honest and nice. Americans also find Southern and Midwest accents especially nice (49 and 40 percent, respectively) but think New York accents are rude (51 percent). “Nice” is one thing, but if you’re looking for high-class steer clear of Southerners. British accents project an air of sophistication (47 percent) but Southern accents do not (6 percent).

Maybe accent-less isn’t the way to go after all. Would research would flourish if all interviewers were matched to the speech patterns of interviewees? Could this extend into marketing opportunities as well? Would national commercials that appeared in the South and use Southern jargon like buggy vs. shopping cart and Coke vs. soda (or pop) and “coop-on” vs. “cue-pon” resonate more with the audience instead of choosing one commercial to run nationally? Is tailoring marketing materials to the various regions of the U.S. practical? Or even possible?

The topic of accents in marketing research came to mind after a speech pathologist friend of mine sent me a quiz to test where I fall in the accent spectrum. (Pretty solidly Midwest, if you were wondering.) Here a few exercises you can do to see where your accent belongs!

Record yourself reading these words and answering the following questions:

Aunt, route, wash, oil, theater, iron, salmon, caramel, fire, water, sure, data, ruin, crayon, toilet, New Orleans, pecan, both, again, probably, spitting image, Alabama, lawyer, coupon, mayonnaise, syrup, pajamas, caught.

  • What is it called when you throw toilet paper on a house?
  • What is the bug that when you touch it, it curls into a ball?
  • What is the bubbly carbonated drink called?
  • What do you call gym shoes?
  • What do you say to address a group of people?
  • What do you call the kind of spider that has an oval-shaped body and extremely long legs?
  • What do you call your grandparents?
  • What do you call the wheeled contraption in which you carry groceries at the supermarket?
  • What do you call it when rain falls while the sun is shining?
  • What is the thing you change the TV channel with?

Check your results here: http://www4.uwm.edu/FLL/linguistics/dialect/staticmaps/q_7.html. And if you’re feeling extra brave, leave a link to your video in the comments section and your thoughts on dialect-specific research and marketing!

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2 Responses to You say potato, I say potahto – why attitudes and accents matter for researchers

  1. Pingback: You say potato, I say potahto – why attitudes and accents matter for researchers « Meyers Research Center: THE BLOG

  2. latika says:

    Very true….in India too this really matters. There are many intonations in Hindi…a north Indian accent in UP state being different from a Bihar being again different from an MP state etc.
    As a researcher I try and imbibe the local accent by practising going around in the market, talking with the local field people/recruiters so that it naturally translates into the local language innuendos, and ultimately looking out for the finer language nuances when it comes to interviewing and modulating my responses accordingly.