Researchers found that because we process words phonologically when we read them (i.e., we silently repeat them to ourselves), words that are spelled differently, but pronounced the same — e.g., ‘bye’ and ‘buy’, known as “homophones” — are initially and automatically interpreted the same until cognitive resources are deployed to disentangle the similar meaning. Therefore, words like bye and buy, right and write, and phew and few mean the same when processed automatically, implicitly via System 1. This, as research has shown, can influence judgment and behavior in favor of the unread homophones in high cognitive load situations where the differences in meaning of the two words is not differentiated. In a series of studies, the researchers found that, under cognitive load, having people read the word ‘bye’ or ‘goodbye’ led to increased purchase-related behavior (e.g., willingness to pay amounts) when purchase opportunities immediately followed.Suggested Action: Just before presenting desired behavioral opportunities, design communications that include differently-spelled homophones for the actions or judgments you’re interested in (e.g., bye preceding opportunities to buy). Make sure to include activities that increase cognitive load (e.g., so that the meanings remain entangled.)
Davis, D.F. and Herr, P.M. (2013). From Bye to Buy: Homophones as a Phonological Route to Priming. Journal of Consumer Research, Vol. 40, DOI: 10.1086/6739.