Anthropomorphic animal mascots in advertising - how do consumers respond

New research examines how marketers can utilise anthropomorphic animal mascots to improve brand equity and sales.

Anthropomorphism is the process of assigning real or imagined human characteristics, intentions, motivations, or emotions to non-human objects. Throughout civilisation, people have imbued creatures from the natural world with human traits and motivations. Marketers have capitalised on this tendency by creating a variety of anthropomorphic animal mascots for commercial products and services (Tony the Tiger & Kellogg's Frosties is a good example). There are also a number of non-anthropomorphic animal mascots as well (the charging bulls on the Red Bull label being one).

However, research on animal imagery in advertising and popular culture is sparse. Thus very little is known about how people respond to animal images when they are presented in anthropomorphic versus non-anthropomorphic form, leaving practitioners with little guidance as to how to use animal imagery in branding, packaging, and advertising.

The objective of this research is to add to the literatures of anthropomorphism and animal imagery by examining how responses toward portrayals of animals in marketplace situations are affected by anthropomorphism. Because people tend to think of the world in terms of the human experience, and tend to be drawn toward things that are more similar to themselves, this research examines the role of perceived animal similarity to humans.

The study tests responses to visual anthropomorphic portrayals of animals based on their baseline physical similarity to humans. The research hypothesised that people will respond more favourably to anthropomorphic portrayals of animals when there is a higher baseline physical similarity to humans, but will respond more favourably to non-anthropomorphic portrayals of animals with a lower baseline similarity to humans. The method of the research is outlined in the research article, which can be downloaded below.

Findings from this research indicate that an animal's baseline physical similarity to humans is indeed an important determinant of how people react to it. In an experimental study, participants who viewed an animal lower in baseline physical similarity to humans had more positive evaluations of the animal image when it was presented non-anthropomorphically. In contrast, participants who viewed an animal higher in baseline physical similarity to humans had more positive evaluations of the animal image when it was presented anthropomorphically. Thus, while both anthropomorphic and non-anthropomorphic animal imagery is prevalent in the marketplace, this research reveals that there are important boundary conditions that affect whether anthropomorphism is likely to result in more positive reactions to animal imagery.

This is the first study that empirically examines responses to anthropomorphic animal imagery, and provides insights into how and why people might respond more favourably to anthropomorphic portrayals of animals compared with non-anthropomorphic portrayals of animals. The findings of this research indicate that the effects of anthropomorphism not only affect how much people like the animal imagery in question, but also how deeply people develop self-brand connections to these advertising mascots. These findings have important implications for enhancing brand equity, improving attitudes toward advertising featuring animal imagery, and perhaps even increasing the likelihood of one brand being selected over another at point of purchase.

This research has recently been published in Psychology & Marketing. The complete pre-published version is available for download below.


{The Role of Baseline Physical Similarity to Humans in Consumer Responses to Anthropomorphic Animal Images}{}