The Science Behind “Cute” in Marketing

‘HappyCat’ from BSN Malaysia

With 2017 already well underway, what are the content marketing strategies that will win big this year? Businesses everywhere under pressure to do more with less, and the need to deliver ROI is an ongoing concern. Some companies are revisiting their marketing strategies through analytics to gain more detailed insights, while others are looking to be more selective in their distribution channels. What everyone’s bearing in mind is that millennials remain the biggest target audience (although Gen Z is slowly, but surely, upcoming). Yet even in this uncertain and highly competitive climate, there’s one approach that remains a winner.

Everybody loves “cute.”

That’s right. It’s a scientific fact.

So what’s the appeal? Well, we’re all still animals, deep down, with inborn instincts to nurture, and it seems that these are what gets triggered when we see something we deem adorable.

More precisely, what actually happens when we see something “cute” is that our brains get flooded with chemicals — dopamine and oxytocin — which create a feel-good emotion. We get happy, in other words. Apply those positive feelings to marketing initiatives and with any luck, they’re reflected and become associated with the brand and product.

Marketing through “cute”

Not convinced? Well, before you wave this whole idea away as just fluff with zero ROI, consider the following:

Cuteness sells better than sex. Surprised? It isn’t that shocking when you think about it. The cute factor is something that can be applied across all ages — from kids to adults. It also speaks to those who lean towards the conservative side. Cuteness, as opposed to sex, has no age restrictions, requires no political correctness, limits or ratings. Sex, on the other hand, requires a lot of finesse to stay within the realm of tasteful.

Cute has greater reach on media. As we move further into the digital age, mobile and video advertising is increasingly becoming the norm. If you think investing in adorableness is a waste of time and money, think about the last time you read about a cute video being banned and taken down.

Cute can be applied to anything — any product, regardless of how “masculine” or tech savvy it is, can be sold through the idea of endearment. Think of the 2015 Super Bowl ad for Budweiser: Best Buds that featured an adorable, yet unlikely duo of a Labrador puppy and Clydesdale horse. Or if you’re looking for something more recent, think of the Star Wars franchise and how R2-D2 is now slowly being dethroned by BB-8.

In summary, that “cute” marketing campaign can reach beyond your target audience and be safely disseminated across all channels.

Sorry, dog-lovers, but it’s the cat’s meow

If you’re toying with the idea of taking your branding down the cute route, here’s an interesting fact: while it may be a dog’s world, on the internet, cats rule.

From Grumpy Cat to Sanrio’s Hello Kitty, it seems that felines have our attention in a way that dogs just don’t. All over the world, marketers and advertisers alike have managed to successfully create campaigns that feature these fluffballs, claws and all. Take Friskies’ recent “Dear Kitten” campaign, whose videos went viral. Or more recently, Sainsbury’s Christmas ad, featuring “Mog”.

Closer to home, BSN (Bank Simpanan Nasional) in Malaysia recently revamped its image with a campaign featuring “Kucing Happy” (translation: “Happy Cat”). Here, the usual stuffy stereotype associated with banks was blown out of the water by an adorable feline sporting a tie, with a side order of snarky humour. So successful was the campaign that “a nation mourned” when the producers hit “paws” (see what they did there?). And the list of other success stories continues to grow.

Again, there’s some science behind this: pets and animals have a proven therapeutic quality. In 2014, an outfit called SoulPancake set up a “stress therapy office” in an open space, where people could come and spend quality time with — you guessed it — kittens. Simply coined Kitten Therapy: The Prescription for Stress, the video of what happened next has garnered over 8 million views, and the number is still climbing. Imagine what that could mean for a brand? Oh, and the video is STILL doing it’s rounds on Facebook.

Don’t just get catty

Of course, this doesn’t mean that brands must stick to cats. Animals in general seem to strike a chord with humanity when it comes to imparting positive features in a product or service. The approach also works well mainly for B2C, not B2B.

Our point is simply this: if you’re looking to revamp your brand this year and in need of a novel way to kickstart a new campaign, why not consider going down the fluffy, adorable path?

*This article first appeared on ACMA, an association for content marketing, WITHOUT PROPER CREDIT GIVEN. When I contacted them for clarification, one of the board members was pretty condescending. As such, I have since asked them to take it down. While the references are from a year (or more back), I do believe the relevance still applies, especially as video is increasingly on the rise.