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Anthropomorphism

Why do we fear clowns? – the art of chosing the right brand character for your brand

Recommendations for brand character strategies:

  • Pick your brand character wisely – the character must be a reflection of your brand values. Beware of the possible connotations a certain type of person, animal or object might represent
  • Adapt to change – society, trends, your product – everything changes and these changes needs to be reflected in your brand character
  • Kill your darling – if your brand character does not bring value or is even hurting your brand, it is time for retirement

If you are about to create a brand character for your brand, you might be wondering what kind of creature suits you best. Exemplified by the clown this article focuses on important things to consider in the process.

Is your brand as strong as an elephant, could it be illustrated by a energetic boy, is it free like a bird? The process of designing of brand character concept is full of choices.

You might have the idea of choosing a clown as your brand character since your product is targeted kids. A great idea since clowns are funny and invented to entertain kids.

However, the clown is a difficult choice, especially in the wake of the recent global problems with scary clown pranks. However, being scared of clowns was also a problem long before the pranks got popular.

The clown is also controversial in relation to marketing where for example McDonalds has had their challenges with Ronald McDonald because of the ambiguous connotations he evokes.

The challenges with clowns puts focus on more than one important issue regarding brand character design:

First – you need to choose your character wisely and you have to adjust your marketing strategy if you realize for example that clowns are problematic – like McDonalds have done with Ronald: He has been given a break until the scary clown hysteria passes. In other words when times, trends, politics change the brand character needs to change too. When things change, consider if the character needs to change behavior, looks or even retire.

Second focus is looking more closely at why we fear clowns. Because this leads us to another point – the importance of the face. If the image of a clown – that is supposed to look happy, smiling and inviting – can scare us as much as is does, what does that say about the face.

The face is one of the most important tool for us humans to communicate with – we create facial expressions and make sound to be understood. Vice versa, we interpret expressions and sounds that are communicated to us through the face. We also have to rely on our ability to recognize people and to tell friend from foe mainly through the face.

  • The distorted scares us

The clown is a human being – but with exaggerated facial expressions, body language and for example shoes. The clown is a strange mixture of the well-known and the unknown – and this ambiguity makes us insecure. Our experience tells us that no one is always smiling so a constantly smiling face is not natural and creates cognitive dissonance in us. Cognitive dissonance is a kind of mental stress experienced when someone holds contradictory beliefs. The distorted look and behavior of the clown is the opposite of authentic

  • Scary clowns look like predators – which we instinctively fear

scaryclown

  • The mask makes the clown unpredictable.

The main part of our communication happens via the face, but a face that is covered by a mask or heavy makeup cannot be read. When we cannot be certain of a person’s state of mind or intensions, it makes us uncomfortable.

Article (in Danish) about scary clowns.

 

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In the safari park of marketing

elephant

baboon

crocodile

giraffe

rhino

zebra

Safari means journey in swahili – and going on a safari in the world of brand characters will take you to all parts of animal kingdom.

But questions of categories soon arises and I have been wondering, how I will get an overview of all the ceratures and:

Can all types of creatures work as brand characters?

Are some creatures more popular than others?

orwell

And I have come closer to an answer, because I have been reading articles and books (okay only one book – ‘Brand Mascots and other marketing animals’) by Stephen Brown – and what a relief finally to find someone who writes about things that have been puzzling me in this study area. And he is also presenting arguments for taking this research area more seriously. Yes! – I’m not alone.

The popularity of brand characters are incontestable

Stephen Brown, Where the wild brands are, p. 215

Brown has a been collecting information about which kind of brand animals (a broad term that also includes humans, deities, extra-terrestrials, monsters, robots – and other objects that can be anthropomorphized) are most popular.

Brand animal popularity is directly related to the species’ physiological and psychological distance from humankind

Stephen Brown, Where the wild brands are, p. 215

21% human

19% bird

16% domestic

12% large wild

9% small wild

7% mythical

7% aquatic

4% insects

2% vegetable

1% body part (?)

3% other

(Stephen Brown, Where the wild brands are, p. 216)

mrclean_b

The happiest people in the world

DK-plugs

#iseefaces – every day next to my desk at the office (One of them I think is even winking at me…)

The official world happiness report tells us that danes are happy. Happier than most others.

Happy-Danes

And why? We have a great work-life balance, we have the concept ‘hygge’ (spending time together in a cosy atmosphere), wellfare, security and we trust each other. We salute being naive in the good way.

But could there be another explanation? Or a new aspect to the the reasons why we are happier in Denmark?

As you know from my previous blogpost The power of kawaii! cute makes you happy and  seing happy faces have a positive impact on your mood. Recently I came across an interesting observation that might have an impact on danish happiness:

int_wall_suckets

 

I think the picture is meant as a joke and I found it on the Facebook page of the danish electricity federation – but seriously if it makes you happy to look at happy faces –  just think about how many times a day you see wall suckets?

 

 

I am social – therefore I create characters

JOAQUIN PHOENIX as Theodore in the romantic drama

angry-computer

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?

grumpy-cat_b

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,  

Aristoteles_b

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

Aristotle*

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.

teddy

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.

kawaii1

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

Seeing faces – part I

A very basic part of my project is concerning the face as an important subject or motif for us human beings. We are sort of programmed to see, recognize and read faces. We communicate with our faces… In alot of ways.

emoji

It all starts when we are born and the distance our eyes can focus is the distance to our mothers face when breastfeeding.

baby

My claim is that one of the reasons why characters are important and popular are because they appeal to us in a fundamental way. Understanding faces is a part of our survival.

So we are drawn to faces:

Elsie-the-Cow

Elsie the cow – is the brand mascot of Borden Dairy Company developed in 1936.

Sometimes we see them in unexspected places:

faces

grillface

And the latest example of our obsession with faces is this coffee cup lid:

lid_face1

lid_face2

Seen on Bored Panda

This is of course a korean invention.

So kiss your coffee :-*

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