What Laurel vs. Yanny Means for Marketing Perception

May 22, 2018

Are you strongly #TeamLaurel? Or squarely #TeamYanny? No matter which you are, you’re wrong. Because both are right.

Originally posted on Instagram by a Georgia high schooler who heard the recording while studying for her literature class, the audio phenomenon eventually made its way to Reddit before spreading to Twitter, Facebook and office spaces everywhere. It set off a firestorm of debate, with stories about it appearing in the New York Times, Wired, Good Morning America, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and beyond.

Eventually, scientists and audio experts weighed in to explain why it is different people hear different things and how our ears can appear to fool us sometimes. It all has something to do with sound frequencies and which ones your ears pick up. Catch more of the higher frequency sounds in the recording and you’ll hear “Yanny;” those more in tune to lower frequencies will hear “Laurel.”

There are a number of factors that go into which frequencies you hear, including the quality and model of your speakers or headphones and the acoustics of the room you’re in. Accentuate different frequencies in the original audio clip, and you’ll be able to hear both “Laurel” and “Yanny.” This tool from the Times will let you do it.

But there’s even more to it than that. What word you hear also depends on what sounds your brain is paying attention to, your age, your past experiences, and what you’re expecting to hear. Just because you hear one thing, and someone else may hear another, it doesn’t make either of you right or wrong. Your perceptions and circumstances are simply different.

This phenomenon doesn’t just pertain to audio, either. It’s true for just about everything around us—from the things we hear and see, to the very way we feel about brands, design, marketing and messaging.

Long story short: Just because one person sees or reads something one way, doesn’t mean all others will have the same reaction to it. Gauge how others—especially your target audience—will perceive a piece of marketing before giving it final judgement.

This article also appeared in our weekly newsletter, Long Story Short. It was written by Joe McIntyre.

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