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November 2015

Celebrating Face with Tears of Joy

facewithtearsofjoy

On the occasion of The Oxford Dictionaries revealing the Word of the Year not to be a word, but a picture – the emoji Face with Tears of Joy –  I think it is time to consider the good old question: is a picture worth a thousand words?

However the answer is complex.  Some claim that the sense of sight is more important to us human beings than any other sense. Others says that it is an oversimplification and that the way our senses influence each other is yet to be discovered. And mayby it depends on the type of person you are.

“We are visual creatures,” says E. Clea Warburton, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Bristol. “Our brain has got more cortex devoted to processing visual information compared to that from our other senses. We are programmed to be encoding and retrieving visual information much more so than auditory information.”

What I think is interesting about the election of the ‘Word’ of the Year in relation my project is the increased focus on pictures, visual language and faces. Faces are trending.

What is it about these faces? It is true, that it is faster to send an emoji than writing: I laugh so much it makes me cry , LOL or LMAO.

Seing that little laughing face has another kind of impact on us, than just the written words. It appeals to us in a fundamental way because we are evolutionary programmed to react to the face.

  • Did you know that a new born baby less than an hour old can trace a picture of a face longer than anything else?
  • Did you know that face-blindness i.e. the inability to remember and recognize faces is a serious handicap and that it is called Prosopagnosia.
  • Did you know that a happy face can comfort us, and that we are attracted to smiles and positive attitudes?

 

I don’t know the background for choosing the Face with Tears of Joy – and not Face with Heart shaped Eyes or Winking Face emojis. But I recently read that for us to interpret a face as being truly happy and not just smiling out of politeness or faking a smile there is at least two features that must be present:

A joyous smile (a truly happy smile) also called a Duchenne smile is when the muscles around the eyes are activated. That is precisely what the Face with Tears of Joy is doing which is different from most other smiling emoji.

obama_laughing

And of course we are communicating and selling by means of happy smiling faces when using characters in branding.

Here the recent example of a smiling Band-Aid that will comfort you if you are in pain, afraid or feeling lonely.

troeste-plaster

Tröstisar Tøjdyrsplaster.

 

When you eat characters…

BBC has spotted a new trend: creating food faces. But the trend is not just about creating food-faces for your own amusement or to persuade kids to eat their dinner. People are theming their Instagram accounts to share photos of food-faces. And where does this trend boom? – in Asia of course and Japan in particular. It’s so kawaii!

angry-birds-bento-box

A Google search on Character Bento gives you a surprisingly creative and colorful result. A bento box is a Japanese lunch box usually containing a homecooked meal of rice, meat, fish and vegetables. Often carefully arranged to look appetizing. The food face trend is taking this tradition to a new level.

And yes food that looks like characters is common in Japan, and a lot of other places:

Foodwithaface

Me eating cake in Tokyo.

macarons

Character macarons

But it’s not a new thing to combine food and faces – and publishing the result. In the renaissance the Italian artist Guiseppe Arcimboldo specialised in the same concept when he excelled in painting faces made out of fruit, vegetables etc.

archimboldo arcimboldo

When we are seeing faces in the food like that, artists and foodies are relying on a phenomenon called pareidolia.

Wikipedia defines pareidolia as:  a psychological phenomenon involving a stimulus (an image or a sound) wherein the mind perceives a familiar pattern of something where none actually exists.

reverse-1314011768_talking_fried_egg

This is not a gif-animation of a face talking – it is a gif-animation of two fried eggs!

pork_face

 

And so this trend is yet another example of how obsessed we are with faces and how powerful the face is as an archetypical image. We simply can’t help seeing the  familiar pattern of the face. It is almost compulsive.

And of course a lot of food branding is relying on the combination of food and faces

Melthemilkbite_kraft

Mel the Milk-Bite from Kraft

heinz_tomatoman

Heinz Tomato man

The golden age of American brand characters

A World of Characters: Advertising Icons from the Warren Dotz Collection from Jan Sturmann on Vimeo.

In this video, there is a rare chance to look into the past and see examples of characters that once populated ads in America. The collection was exhibited this year in San Francisco. And the collector is an important part of the research and data collection of brand characters.

Warren Dotz is a unique person in the strange realm of brand characters. He calls himself a pop culture archaeologist. He is specialized in American advertising; he is publishing books about classic American brand characters, and has a huge collection of brand figurines and other historic material.

Bonus info: Dotz is also a dermatologist with a clinic in Berkeley.

WarrenDotzbooks

Examples of Dotz’s books.

If you are looking for material on brand characters – as I have been – and only found Dotz’s books, you would think that the development of brand characters stopped in 1985. And peaked in the 1950’s and 60’s.

I don’t think that’s the case. The problem is that Dotz is almost the only one collecting and publishing books about brand characters – and since he is specialising in a certain time and country – there is obvious limits to his study.

What is also interesting in the video is the strong emotional reactions people have to seeing all the faces – some familiar and nostalgic others are just reacting to the universal appeal in happy faces.

I especially adore the japanese girl who loves the cuteness and has visited the exhibition three times.

More bonus info that made me wonder:

Aunt Jemima is famous and still popular representing pancake related breakfast products, she has been redesigned several times to look more modern.  Much has been said about this old brand character (dating back to the 1890’s) and the connotations in relation to slavery and afro-american rights,

auntjemima

but did you know that Jemima once had a male counterpart called Uncle Mose, and that he was invented just to create salt AND pepper shakers shaped as Aunt Jemima and Uncle Mose as an advertising premium (Dotz and Morton, What a character!, p.10)

But imagine a subordinate ‘career’ like that. Standing in the shadow of the salt shaking Aunt Jemina. Talk about 15 minutes of fame.

unclemose

 

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