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So cute I could I could eat it up
Hello, everyone, welcome to the very first episode of podcast What The Research. I’m Rohit Kaul, a marketeer and behavior science practitioner. As this is the first episode, let’s spend some time on what this podcast is all about. You see, as a self taught behavior science practitioner, you know, someone who does not have formal training or degree in behavior science, I spend a lot of time going through various research papers to get deep insights into specific topics of behavioral science. And there have been so many occasions when I have come across a very interesting research study. And I’ve wondered, why don’t more people know about this. So this podcast is an attempt to bridge that gap.
In every episode, I will look at one or two outstanding and unique research studies from the field of behavioral science and walk you through them, looking more from the point of view of real life applications of this research, and how you can use it in your day to day life as a product designer, as a marketing expert, or as a behavior science practitioner. I’m fully aware there’s a lot of discussion about the replicability of many of the research studies, especially in the behavioral science field, given that the field is very new. But in this podcast, the focus is going to be more on the real life applications and providing you food for thought so that you can utilize the insights from this research, rather than getting into whether these are replicable.
So let’s dive straight into our first episode. In this episode, we will look at a very interesting research paper, which is titled, “So cute, I could eat it up. Priming effects of cute products on indulgent consumption”. While I will get into what exactly does this title mean, but before that, the authors. This was written by Gergana Y. Nenkov, who was at that point of time at Boston College, and MauraL.Scott, who again at that point of time was at Florida State University, both in the departments of Marketing.
Well, this research paper examines the consumers’ purchase decision process when they’re exposed to cute products. So before we go any further, let’s define what cuteness is. So cuteness is generally defined as being attractive in an adorable or endearing way, which is different from being attractive, say in a masculine way or a feminine way. So this research paper underscores that there are two dimensions of cuteness. One is called the Kindenschema cuteness, which centers on cute features in newborns like bulging foreheads, large eyes, rounded cheeks. And the other type of cuteness is what the authors call whimsical cuteness, which is associated with capricious humor and playful disposition. Like a stapler styled as a crocodile, or a cap styled as bunny ears, or a beer mug styled as a Viking helmet.
The authors in this research paper say that both types of cuteness that is Kindenschema cuteness and whimsical cuteness are expected to trigger responses from customers, but the responses are different. So let’s first see what responses are triggered when a consumer is exposed to Kindenschema cuteness. Since it relates to the vulnerable nature of a living entity, an infant, Kindenschema cuteness usually gets response from adults that increases the infant’s chances of survival. So this means increased attention to and protection of helpless infant and increased carefulness and caretaking behavior. So Kindenschema captures the consumers attention and triggers caretaking motivation and behavior. So exposure to cute products with Kindenschema dimension leads to less indulgent behavior, which means the consumers are more deliberate and evaluate items more carefully before purchase. On the other hand, when you talk about whimsical cuteness, the authors argue that exposure to whimsical products, prime’s mental representations of fun and this priming effect increases consumers self-reward focus, that means they focus on approaching outcomes and rewards for their own self. This is the fundamental hypothesis of the author’s research that compared to Kindenschema products or neutral products, which do not have any cuteness element, products which are based on whimsical cuteness will increase self indulgent behavior among consumers, which basically means that the odds of consumers making a purchase on a whim or consuming more of product will be higher when primed with whimsically cute products.
The researchers conducted four different types of studies to test their hypotheses about the whimsically cute products. And these are very interesting, by the way, so I’ll just quickly go through these. In the first study, they checked the effects of exposure to a whimsically cute spoon on actual food self serving and food consumption. So they had one neutral spoon and they had one spoon which was shaped like a dancer and they checked if it had any impact on food consumption, which was basically ice cream consumption, and they realized that it did. So in this study, when people used a whimsical spoon, they scoop more ice cream, almost 25% more ice cream as compared to when they used neutral spoon.
In the second study, they exposed consumers to a whimsically cute stapler vs a neutral stapler. The whimsically cute stapler was shaped like a crocodile and a neutral stapler was like a regular stapler. They found again that the customers and the participants in this study were more likely to use the stapler, which was whimsically cute, then a regular stapler. But they also found that these participants were using the stapler more for indulgent purposes, like for creating some fun projects or for using these for any specific fun activities. And were not using these for non-indulgent purposes, for instance, at work, you know. So they were not using this for work or for some serious homework, they were not using it for that, which is an interesting thought and just hold on to it, because we’ll come back to it. In the third study, they exposed respondents to discount cards from an e-commerce website, which allowed them to rent movies. And they had three types of discount cards one was neutral, the other was whimsically cute. And the third was Kindenschema cute. And what they found out in this was when people were using whimsically cute discount card to rent movies, it led to more indulgent behavior. So the choice of the movies was you know, more lowbrow movies, not the intellectual or high end sort of movies, which was interesting. They also did another study where what they did is they had two versions of a cookie. One was a neutral cookie, regular cookie, and in other they added elements of fun and quirkiness. They also had one more type of manipulation in this where they changed the brand name of the retailer who was offering this cookie. One was being offered as the ‘cookie shop’. And the other retailer was called the ‘kid’s cookie shop’. There was neutral cookie being sold by the kid’s cookie shop and the cookie shop and the whimsically cute cookie being sold by the kid’s cookie shop and the cookie shop. What they found is, which is again very interesting, that when they saw the whimsically cute cookie, consumers were more indulgent and they purchased more cookies, but only when the positioning of the retailer was neutral. That is when it was called the ‘cookie shop’. And when they were exposed to the same whimsically cute cookie with Kindenschema positioning, you know, when the retailer’s name was the ‘kid’s cookie shop’, the indulgence effect was not there, it just evaporated. So if you put study three and study four together, to my mind, it basically says that whimsically cute products lead to more indulgent consumption choices. But when you introduce Kindenschema elements in the whimsically cute offering, it eliminates indulgence. So that was another finding of this study.
Talking about the applications of this research, and I was really intrigued about the various ways in which this research would be applied, one very straightforward application is for products which are beneficial for adults, but they don’t want to consume them. So any product, which is beneficial from a health point of view to adults, but it’s not considered exciting or it is not considered, you know, which is not consumed in the same way by the adults could actually be given a whimsically cute dimension to increase its consumption because that is when it will fall in the zone of self indulgent behavior. So that could be a very interesting application of this research. So you could apply it for healthy eating alternatives, fresh food, even to activities like exercising or keeping oneself hydrated. So if you have an app, which is asking people to drink water at regular intervals, if you can introduce an element of whimsical cuteness, then it will increase the consumption of the app. So the people will use the app more, if it is aligned with whimsical cuteness.
The other way to look at it also is that whimsically cute products are used more for self indulgent use, and not so much for more utilitarian purposes, which was the insight they got from the research on the stapler. So, this also means that when you are using this for your brand, you have to understand what are the conditions and what is the purpose for which your brand is used. So if you are a brand which is selling utilitarian products, for instance, a car insurance or life insurance, or car tires or spare parts, if you give it whimsical cuteness, it can in fact reduce the consumption of your product. But on the other hand, if you are selling something which is already part of indulgent choices on part of the customer, the simplest example is essentially chocolates and cookies and any other food item, adding a whimsical cuteness element to it will actually increase the consumption of the product by the customers. So the product which comes to my mind, which is in some way is already using this principle, is the language learning app Duolingo, which I would say is used sometimes in a more utilitarian fashion, but sometimes in more self indulgent fashion. But it uses quirkiness. It uses humor, and it has an owl, which is duo, and which makes its appearances in the reminders which is central to the app. And by doing that it has definitely played a role in increasing the amount of time people spend on the app or the number of people who use this app. As you can see, duolingo is perhaps one of the most popular language learning apps.
So I hope you enjoyed this episode of What The Research podcast and this research on cute products is something that will give you some food for thought to start thinking about if and when you can utilize it for own products and your own brands.
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Link to the research paper: RESEARCH PAPER