Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck isn’t just one of Britain’s best-known restaurants, it’s also got this rather illuminating flash game which you can play while you idle away the several months waiting time for reservations. Go and play it now – it really only takes a couple of minutes – then come back and read the rest of this post.
The game is based on the “Bouba/Kiki Effect”, a psychological phenomenon which identifies – so sez Wikipedia – “a non-arbitrary mapping between speech sounds and objects”. The Fat Duck site applies Bouba and Kiki to different ingredients and, as you’ll know if you played it, it gets pretty consistent results.
Heston looking a bit bouba.
We think the game is great because it sheds light on how we make decisions. The first time you see an ingredient and have to choose Bouba or Kiki your decision may not be arbitrary but it’s not necessarily anything you could articulate, and it certainly isn’t something you can process logically. A lemon is kiki because, well, it just is.
After that, though, rationalisation can kick in. Or rather, something that feels like rationalisation can kick in. If a lemon is kiki then so is a pepper. If one bar of chocolate is bouba the other must be too. (Interestingly, in the original experiments the words are associated with shape, whereas on the Fat Duck site they seem to link to sharpness or intensity of taste.)
This isn’t us making better choices or weighing up options – it’s simply consistency bias at work: we are applying a rule we don’t fully understand and coming up with reasons why. So the question for researchers is: how much does this apply to brands? Is the initial purchase decision in a category carefully thought out – or is it simply more like kiki vs bouba?