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Cognitive psychology

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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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.

 

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

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