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Look me in the eyes

eyes

What happens when people look each other in the eyes?

Do you get a glimpse of the other person’s soul? Do you feel closer attached? Do you build trust?

If you think of the opposite situation, the feeling that something is ‘wrong’ can grow if people avoid eye contact: Maybe they are shy, maybe not willing to tell the truth, are indifferent about you and the situation or not mentally present.

On an interpersonal level, a lot of information can come from the gaze: Obtaining eye contact is often perceived as an invitation and as a sign of self-confidence.

But what about the effect of eye contact in the world of brand characters?

Is eye contact as important when it comes to brand characters as is between real life people?

OPTUS_Ollie_01

 

2010-singapore-youth-olympic-mascot

A study of brand characters on cereal boxes done by Cornell University Food and Brand Lab shows that cereal producers clearly think that eye contact matters. On cereal boxes marketed for kids the gaze of the characters on boxes in 57 out of 86 cases are directed in an angle matching the young audience when passing by the shelves in the supermarket. On products directed towards adults the angle of the eyes are directed at a higher level.

As a result of that observation the researchers turned to the consumers and tested what cereal brand they trusted and felt the closest connection to. Trust and connection rose up to 28% when the character looked them straight in the eyes.

Utzgirl

A recommendation for brand character designers who want to build trust and brand loyalty is to direct the gaze of the character at your target group since we seem to find reassurance and honesty in eye contact.

 

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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.

 

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

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?

 

 

Is it childish?

Often when I explain about my research project I meet the reaction, that brand characters are for kids. Ie.: That it is not serious business, that respectable brands do not have a character etc.

No one can really imagine Mærsk having a jolly character. Or am I mistaken?

MAERSK_logo

And of course there could be many ways to humanize af viusual identity

maerskstar

One of the aspects of brand character design I am investigating is the question:

Is it suitable or relevant for all types of brands to have a character?

When I take an overview of the landscape of brand characters it seems as if the majority of brand characters belongs to brands related to hedonistic products: ie. food, entertainment, leisure activities.

I also see a tendency that many brands apparantly have kids as their target group when designing and using their character. And that is also supported by research that show that children are more likely to anthropomophize. So children may be more susceptible to brand characters in general. And they may also be more hedonistic.

disney_quote

But as one of the masters of character design (Walt Disney) remarks here, there is a child in all of us.

Examples of brand characters targeted a grown-up audience:

brosmind

Wine label by Brosmind for Vintae

yojija

Yojiya – japanese cosmetics company and coffee shop

glspakkeshop

GLS pakkeshop

Osprey_Brewing_Company

Osprey Brewing Company

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

Do you trust him? – characters and positive brand attitudes

waon_b

(‘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.

relation

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.

duracel_b

Nostalgia is decisive – we long for the past

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

1344782-irma-piger-sidder-med-ved-chefbordet--

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.

pringles

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.

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