Cute sells. Is this news to anyone? Is this a revelation to those of us navigating the communications world? I think not. But a blog post from earlier this year has stuck with me.
The post talked about how brands purposefully use cute mascots/images to sell – not just because audiences like to say “awwww”, but because we like numbers. Data gleaned from scientific research show our brains actually react to cute images. Examples of this strategy appear regularly throughout the early 20th century to today. And brands responded. Maybe they didn’t have the numbers yet, but they certainly acted as if they did. From the Kewpie doll and the Morton’s salt girl to the Pillsbury Doughboy and Snuggle Bear, cute was and is everywhere. Mickey Mouse wins Minnie’s affections over longer-nosed and less-rounded Mortimer. Frankly, that was more than 50 years ago. And Mickey still wins. There aren’t many people who even know the “also-ran” Mortimer. Cute is king.
According to the cited studies, our brains are actually hard-wired toward cute. That doesn’t seem a revelation, but sadly, we are a self-centered bunch. Science purports that babies look, feel and smell the way they do so we, as grown-up humans, will take care of them. Evidently we wouldn’t look out for anyone but ourselves (our grown-up selves), if we didn’t want to cuddle little ones. Babies have a good gig.
So who defines “cute?” We all think our own babies are cute, even if others don’t agree. See the classic “Seinfeld” (Gotta See the Baby) episode about the ugly baby of a friend. Isn’t beauty (or cuteness) in the eye of the beholder? Evidently not.
For marketers and professional communicators, this is not news. However, we all have yearned to make our less-than-cute companies, adorable or at least palatable. Adding chubby cheeks, a bow tie and a jaunty hat on a brand that is dangerous simply doesn’t work. Looking cute and actually BEING cute are very different things. Even the image of my own profession – the spin doctor – isn’t exactly someone you’d like to see in the operating room.
So soldier on, you adorable PR people. Helping clients to identify and show their cute side may be difficult and it may even be bad communications strategy. Even if there are data points to show how the brain gravitates to the cute mascot, it may not be wise counsel. So tread lightly when sharing the “ugly baby” news with organizational leadership. Help them to simply sit down, do what you say and steer clear of a mirror.
But when no one else is looking, check out YouTube and watch a Panda video for inspiration. But don’t count the views. It’ll only make you sad.