PR Niblets

Monday, July 15, 2013

Is it Pop? Or is it Soda? …Or is it Coke?

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The differences across the country in how we speak, act, dress and live day-to-day life have always fascinated me. Just last week, I was in Minnesota visiting friends when one said the word “bagel” but instead of pronouncing it “BAY-gull,” she (and others around her) pronounced it “BAG-gull.” Furthermore, my friends from Pittsburgh often use terms like “jagger bush” instead of “thorn bush.” And don’t get me started on the never-ending battle of pop vs. soda… (despite the mass popularity of pop, it’s soda!) .

Although these are subtle differences that most people understand when spoken in context, such differences across a language and linguistics can create a challenge for PR/communications professionals who are always striving to effectively communicate a brand’s message to an audience. In many cases, PR professionals can refer to the AP Stylebook for the proper grammar and use of a word. But, some differences, particularly regional dialects, just aren’t covered.

In 1999, the Harvard Dialect Survey, collected data on terms/sounds that were used differently across North America. Last month, this study went viral after Joshua Katz, a Ph.D. student, used the data to inform a series of maps illustrating the variances in speech across the U.S. (Side note: a great proof point for the power of using visuals to make a story come to life!).

In my mind, this all begs the question: Do these variances directly impact how a brand is perceived? If a company decides to be a “soda company” vs. a “pop company” – will that turn off a particular audience?

While the answer to that particular (exaggerated) example leans toward “unlikely,” the topic of dialect variances as a roadblock to effectively communicating a brand story remains.

Have you ever been faced with a situation where dialect got in the way of communicating? What are other cultural factors that influence the way we communicate a brand’s story?

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