September 2015

I am social – therefore I create characters

JOAQUIN PHOENIX as Theodore in the romantic drama


Are you in love with your OS? Are you talking to your computer? telling it off mayby?  Are you having conversations with your dog? Or do you think your cat looks grumpy?


Then you might be anthropomorhpizing!

As established previously  ‘anthropomorphism is the act of perceiving humanlike characteristics in either real or imagined nonhuman agents’

In my pursuit to investigate the power of brand characters and the reasons why we use them – I have travelled into new an unknown territory and been reading this article about cognitive psychology  to understand more about the underlying compulsion to anthropomorphize.:

Akalis, Scott et al., When we need a human: Motivational determinants of anthropomorphism,  


And to learn more about it we can begin with turning to Aristotle and an eternal ‘truth’

The only critical ingredient in the recipe for supreme happiness is other people


It is a human condition to be dependent on other people: ‘People need other humans in daily life for reasons ranging from the practicl to the existential, and we suggests here that this need is so strong that people sometimes create humans out of non-humans through a process of anthropomorphism.’ p. 143-144 (ibid)

We have two kinds of basic needs that can be linked closer to anthorpomorphism: the need for social connection and the need to experience competance.

Anthropomorphism can get out of control and become  extreme and unhealthy, but on a more reasonable and common level it is something we all do to some extend.

‘Some people anthropomorphize more than others, some situations induce anthropomorhpism more that others. Children do it more than adults, some cultures more than others.


But the study described in the article shows that the more lonely you feel, the more you anthropomorphize.

So it seems that a conclusion could be that deep down the motivation to create characters comes from our dependence on having other people in our lives.


For funny pictures of dogs looking like people – click here

*Akalis, Scott et al.,
When we need a human: Motivational determinants of anthropomorphism, 2008,
Social Cognition, p.143


Good vibes from the past – notes on nostalgia


Nostalgia is a term that keeps popping up when reading about character design. It seems to be important on several levels.

Nostalgia is originally a greek word and equals the term homesick – but it is also broader defined as a sentimental yearning after earlier and simpler times – often (but not always) it is a longing for childhood.

We love to recognize and revive positive experiences from the past – because it makes us feel good. Human beings do have selective memories and thrives better when focusing on the happy and positive.

A study found that repressing embarassing memories for long enough can lead to us erasing them completely

The Daily Telegraph on Selective memories

So if a brand character succeeds in beeing able to give us that positive vibe from the past, we will love and trust them. And therefore characters that continuously are reinvented and re-introduced in successful ways can have a very long life.


The Michelin man is for example 121 years old.


And this girl might at first sight seem young, but Matilde, who is the mascot of Arla’s drinking chocolate is 45 years old. And although she is middle aged, she has just been center of attention for young girls in a very popular social media campaign asking danish people to find girls looking like Matilde. For all of us who grew up with Matilde on the shelves in the supermarket and drikning the chocolate at birthday parties and for breakfast at weekends she is a nostalgic item.

And in the future Matilde will most likely also be present in the memories of all the girls participating in the competition:


Matilde look-alikes summer 2015  from the competion Jagten på Matildepigen on Instagram  #matildepigen

Nostalgia will favorably affect spokes-character trust

Niedrich, R. W.,Spokes-Characters: Creating trust and positive Brand attitudes

But there are other aspects linking nostalgia to brand characters. Last week I was discussing how cute characters affects us in my blogpost The power of kawaii! – and I established that seeing cute stuff makes us happy.

Yesterday I read an article (Russell, L., T., M., A socio-marketing analysis of the concept of cute and its consumer culture implications – 2014 Journal of Consumer Culture) and the article suggests  that there is a kind of escapism from real life in the widespread and growing attraction to and celebration of cuteness. Scientists who have studied the land of the cute (yes I’m talking about Japan) and the spreading of cuteness to the rest of the world say that:

Cute products attests to a rapidly expanding desire for cute, cuddly, reassuring comsumption experinces.

We seek out cute things when we need reassurance during stress

So cuteness is comforting us when the world is demanding. And how is this related to nostalgia? well dealing with the cute and celebrating it in an efford to partake some of the childhood’s simplicity, happiness and emotional warmth.

And taking it futher: ‘rebelllion from society in Japanese youth culture has developed into a rebellion from adulthood’  p.79. Japanese stay young by being cute.


Taking nostalgia to it’s logical conclusion: Adoring cuteness could very well be linked to this ‘moratorium mentality’ – a lack of desire to grow up!

The power of kawaii!


Kawaii? Say what?  – You might respond. And what’s up with the puppy?

Don’t worry – it all makes sense. I’m only trying to make you feel better.

Kawaii is japanese and it means cute. And the concept of cuteness is an essential part of japanese culture. Originally kawaii is referring to the image of a radiant og blushing face. And can also be translated into:  to be loved.

The icon of cuteness is Hello Kitty – and this year she has been 40 years in the business of kawaii! And she stronger than ever – because of her cuteness. Looking at Kitty (or other kawaii images) makes you feel good.


But why is all this talk about kawaii relevant in this context?

If you take a look over the landscape of brand characters you will meet cuteness everywhere. It is often the very essence of characterdesign. But why?

Cute things produce positive feelings

The tenderness elicited by cute images is more than just a positive feeling state. It can make people more physically tender in in their motor behavior and narrows attentional focus

Nittono, H. et al.: The Power of kawaii, PLoS one 2012


A immensely cute brand character is Danbo. He represents Amazon – he isa  sort of robot made from the company’s delivery boxes.


Or Zendiums toothpaste’s new characters called Zymerne


Or Yummo Yogurts penguin

When is something percieved to be cute?

Cute objects are assumed to be characterized by baby schema: A large head relative to the body size, a high and protruding forehead and large eyes.

This idea that cuteness in babies is a part of evolution that ensures that adults take care of their children was first described by the austrian zoologist Konrad Lorenz in the 1970’s



 If a picture wasn’t going very well, I’d put a puppy in it.

Norman Rockwell

Name dropping

Names are an important part of identity – but many brand characters are anonymous:


The apis bull representing Novo Nordisk – does it have a name?


The Starbuck mermaid?


Or this girl representing the company Minilån.

But on the other hand, many brand characters DO have names, we just don’t know them:

Did you know that the cute Twitter bird is called Larry


That the guy representing Pringles is called Julius Pringles


Or that the mascot for Linux is called Tux


Do you trust him? – characters and positive brand attitudes


(‘Happy WAON’ – character for the japanese electronic money service Waon)

In my study of brand characters it is important for me to investigate what difference having a brand character makes for a brand. With my project I would like to be able to answer questions like:

Why is it relevant to have a brand character?

What is the effect of having a brand character?

To find  these answers I am reading studies on the matter. And several studies in the field of advertising and marketing is researching and testing hypothesis’ related to my questions.

For example this article by R W Niedrich called: Spokes-Characters: Creating Character Trust and Positive Brand Attitudes (Journal of Advertising 2004)

Characters appear to benefit brands by establishing brand identity and favorable brand associations

p. 25

And since everybody longs for consumers to perceive their brand in a positive way and to form a strong relation between consumer and brand, it is interesting reading.


What Niedrich concludes after testing 140 people’s relation to brand characters is that an emotional connection and trust is influences by certain characteristics:

A character is an expert

When consumers percieve a character to be an expert – ie. making product claims and repeatedly showing to possess knowledge about the product – the brand character is trustworthy.


Nostalgia is decisive – we long for the past

A nostalgic feeling in the consumer towards a brand character builds trust.


Relevance is of lesser importance when it comes to trust

On the other hand research showed that relevance between the character and it’s brand is of lesser concern. So a connection between the quality and characteristics of the brand does not necessarily affects trust.


New costumers are more affected by brand characters

The more experienced you as a consumer are with a brand the lesser effect the band character has on your attitudes towards the brand. And  – of course – the more importance nostalgia has on the relation.

The antihero character!

A hero is a character, that convension (whoever that is…) has desided has qualities like courage, strength, idealism, morality etc.

An antihero is of course the opposite, ie. a character that lacks the normal heroic traits and is known for being unable, mediocre, weak, ridiculous etc. In other words the antihero is much more human. And in a way more real.

Examples of antiheros in film and literature and real life could be:


The overweight panda Po from the animation film Kung Fu Panda. Po is chosen to be master of Kung fu despite his obvius physical challenges – and seemingly un-coolness.

Or perhaps this guy – who is highly antiheroic in many of the parts that he is playing:


Or a character that all danes know: Gummi-Tarzan, who is bullied by stronger kids and also by his father for being a wimp.


In a brand mascot context, there are numeruos brand characters with overwhelmingly positive hero-like qualities:




But there are also brand characters who get famous for being antiheroic. Take for example the former brand character for the danish railroad company DSB, called Harry:


Harry is clumsy, stupid and since he is very much in love with his old car, and against travelling in trains, he is the ironic contrast to the customers in DSB trains. Harry appeared in DSB adds for eleven years and was a great succes for DSB. Harry managed to change people’s attitude towards the company which was a great achievement.


Another example of an anti-hero character representing a brand is Aleksandr Orlov. Aleksandr is a russian meerkat – he runs the website Compare the Meerkat and is very annoyed by people who mistakedly find his website instead of the website ‘compare the market’ where you can compare car insurances. Which is the real sender of the Aleksandr Orlov campaign.

Aleksandr is an aristocrat, he is interested in literature, has a strong russian accent and is a bit of a snob. He is surrounded by a set of characters for example his emplyee Vassily. You can meet Aleksandr online since he is both tweeting and has a facebook profile.


Like Harry, Aleksandr is not designed to be likable, positive and friendly, but is a succes because he is comical, an exagerated charicature and the whole campaign is an ironic approach to the general problem people have when spelling URL’s.

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