How Humanising Products Can Help Them Sell

Jeanette Helen Wilson

Published Mon 29 Feb by Jeanette Helen Wilson in Creating Better Content and Marketing More Effectively

This article explores the idea of anthropomorphisation, the mental process of perceiving objects as having 'human' qualities. It goes on to discuss how giving your products human-like qualities can increase your sales and the loyalty of your customers.

Why Finding a Face in the Crowd is So Important 

The Personal in the Product

The concept of anthropomorphisation is not a new one. From an early age, many of us form attachments to blankets or a teddy bear. This anthropomorphism carries across to our spending habits.

“We tend to add thoughts and emotions to objects in a similar way to how we would experience things ourselves,’ says Marc Andrews, the author of Hidden Persuasion. ‘The more we like the advertised product and have ‘feelings’ for it, the more likely we are to bond with it, and thus buy the advertised product.”

A study by Guthrie in 1993 showed that seeing the human elements of non-human forms and events pervades our judgement, whether we are aware of it or not.

This explains why some people name their cars, and form human-like attachments to them. Advertisers actively encourage us to anthropomorphise objects: the more we identify with products, the more likely we are to buy and stay loyal to a particular product or brand in the future.

1. Meerkats ‘Family’ 

An example of this is the meerkats concept used to advertise "Compare the Market".

  

Not only do they speak and have distinct characteristics, their faces are animated to make them seem like humans, and they’re given human names. People associate the brand with the meerkat ‘family’, even though the connection between the meerkats and the company name is a tentative play on words.

1. Coca-Cola

In a 2007 study, Pankaj Aggarwal and Ann McGill showed that unless there is a convincing likeness to the human form, people do not tend to anthropomorphise products. Therefore, trying to force this sort of association where it is not convincing can actually make consumers distrust and dislike a product. 

The success of the Cola personalised bottles was aided by the shape of the bottles. Note that there is a ‘head,’ ‘shoulders’ and even ‘feet’ on the packaging, as well as the printed names. The argument is that this advertising campaign would not have worked with cans, which do not resemble the human form in any way, and are just straight up / straight down.

Why do we Humanise Products?

According to Guthrie, there are three main reasons why we tend to give human attributes to non-human objects or products:

1. Some see anthropomorphising as wishful thinking: that giving human attributes to inanimate objects helps people feel some form of companionship which they are lacking in their lives. In this way, products fill a void that is otherwise unfulfilled

2. The second explanation is that we anthropomorphise to help us make sense of the world. People like to anthropomorphise objects because it makes them seem more familiar. We tend to view things more positively when we see them as being like ourselves

3. Finally, if we can see objects as following human patterns and characteristics, we see them as more predictable and therefore safer

User-Friendliness = Likeability = Brand Loyalty

A study by Branscombe in 1981, just as computers were starting to take shape and infiltrate our world, suggested that people were more likely to see computers as ‘friendly’ and ‘supportive’ if they were easy to use. 

Ascribing human characteristics to an inanimate object is how marketers get us hooked. Without really realising it, we give our loyalty to new products as long as they are in the ‘family’ of a product we have used before and trusted.

Another way in which advertisers successfully use anthropomorphic language to rear loyalty and trust in consumers is to use words such as ‘product family’ instead of the cold, non-human ‘product line.’ Some even go as far as using personal pronouns such as ‘he’ and ‘she’ instead of the neutral ‘it.’

The Charm of a ‘Smile’

Studies showed that people viewed the car in the top picture more positively than the one that looked like it was frowning. People generally, not surprisingly, respond more positively to a smile, even though they are perfectly aware that is a physical impossibility for an inanimate object to smile!

“A smile is more congruent with the general human schema than a frown: smiling faces are seen as more familiar” (Baudouin et al, 2000)

It’s not just marketers and advertising companies who use anthropomorphisation. It is a remarkable way of persuading people to abide by rules and follow guidelines. One great example of this is recycling. This is something that is to be encouraged worldwide, but involves, for many, changing habits.

A study by Hae Joo Kim of Wilfrid Laurier University used pictures of an organic-waste bin that had a frown and sad-looking eyes. This image was accompanied by a caption that said: ‘Please feed me food waste.’ People who viewed the picture assigned human characteristics to the bin, saying it looked ‘sad.’ People who saw this sad-looking image of the bin were more likely to recycle their food than participants who just saw a poster showing an ordinary waste bin with no ‘face.’

“Not only did we find participants felt guilty about not complying with the social cause, but they also felt guilty about harming another being, in the form of an anthropomorphized light bulb, waste basket, or tree,” says Kim.

This website encouraging people to use water responsibly and not waste it, uses a similar tactic. The water is seen as an entity in itself, with a smiling face. Once people see this as having human characteristics, such as the capacity to feel happy and sad, they are less likely to cause it ‘pain’ by wasting it. 

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