Strategic Anthropomorphizing Can Be An Excellent Way To Increase Emotional Buying

Paul Conner

Take a look at this image.

What do you see? You might be saying:

“This is a smiling car.”

Is this car really smiling?  I don’t think so.  People smile, and maybe animals, but not cars.

But if you see a smiling car, you’re not crazy.  You’ve just “anthropomorphized” it. This means that you’ve imagined it as a person.

(Because “anthropomorphize” is a long, hard to type, and hard to say word, I’ll abbreviate it as APM.)

It’s well-established that we APM products and brands.  Why do we do it?  Because we’re by nature social animals and APM’ing gives us a better “feel” for products and brands, which directs our buying decisions about them.  More academically, APM’ing is a natural social heuristic that helps us optimize our (consumer) lives.

Speaking of academics, here are some interesting academic results that relate to APM:

  • Fitzsimons, Chartrand, and Fitzsimons (2008) found that people APM’ed Apple to be creative, and when exposed to Apple logos below their level of awareness, they were more creative than equivalent respondents not exposed to Apple logos.  They found the same effect for Disney and honesty.  (Fitzsimons, G.M., Chartrand, T.L., and Fitzsimons, G.J. (2008) Automatic Effects of Brand Exposure on Motivated Behavior: How Apple Makes You “Think Different.” Journal of Consumer Behavior, Vol. 35, 21-35.)
  • In two studies, Epley et al (2008) showed that chronically disconnected people attributed human traits to pets more than people who felt more socially connected (Study 1) and that people with a higher desirability (i.e., need) for control attributed human traits to an unpredictable dog more than people with lower desirability (Study 2).  Additional work by Epley and colleagues shows that experimental (vs. correlational) manipulations of “loneliness” lead to significantly higher APM’ing of non-human agents.  (Epley, N., Akalis, S., and Cacioppo, J.T. (2008) When We Need a Human: Motivational Determinants of Anthropomorphism.  Social Cognition, Vol. 26, No. 2, pp. 143-155. // Epley, N., Akalis, S., Waytz, A., and Cacioppo, J.T. (2008) Creating Social Connection Through Inferential Reproduction: Loneliness and Perceived Agency in Gadgets, Gods, and Pets.  Psychological Science, Vol. 19, No. 2, pp. 114-120.)

I’m particularly interested in APM because I’ve come to believe that we automatically APM almost everything we come into contact with — including products and brands — again, in order to more easily examine our feelings toward them and decide what to do with them.  Assuming that is truth, if only to some degree, here are 5 ways that marketers can optimize their APM marketing:

Given that it’s best to be short and sweet in blogs, I’ll close hoping that this information has been useful.  If you’re interested in studying how your brand or product is APM’ed and, most importantly, what feelings are activated by that automatic process, please let us know at Sentient Decision Science.  We can help you do this and provide important marketing insights and direction on the basis of the research.

Until next time…

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