Don’t Tickle Me, Elmo: When Brands Can Humanize (Or Not)
When humans are trying to squeeze past each other in Times Square, the last thing they want to see is a talking M&M, according to branding research announced on Monday.
That’s why brand marketers need to pay attention to the social context in which they’re presenting their mascots to enhance consumer engagement, reads “Should Anthropomorphized Brands Engage Customers? The Impact of Social Crowding on Brand Preferences.” In an announcement emailed to Target Marketing on Monday evening, a spokeswoman for Lehigh University said the research just accepted by the American Marketing Association’s Journal of Marketing finds some social situations make talking brandbeasts irritating and “A $1 million ad in Times Square might not be such a great investment for some brands.”
However, consumers who are gathered for a social purpose — like a baseball game or a food truck festival — may be more open to spokesbeasts, the research illustrates.
The university’s announcement says the study’s conclusions might be particularly relevant for advertising on digital signage platforms, where crowd size can be detected and the messaging adjusted to fit the audience. In particular, the research looks at the effectiveness of M&M’s “colorful spokescandies” that a 2013 brand announcement declared had “irresistible chocolate [that] always makes moments even better — be they watching the Super Bowl, baking cookies, gathering the family together for a movie or even tailgating,” according to Roy Benin, then chief consumer officer of Mars Chocolate North America.
"This is the downside of humanization," says Marina Puzakova, assistant professor of marketing at Lehigh University and one of the study's authors. "Our research shows that when there is social crowding, or close proximity to other people, consumers can feel overwhelmed by an extroverted, action-oriented brand, which can have a negative impact on their perception of that brand."
While anthropomorphized brands are important for positioning, marketers have to tread carefully.
“Specifically, the authors show that consumers' inferences of an anthropomorphized brand's intentionality to interact with them in a socially crowded context trigger greater social withdrawal, thereby resulting in lower preferences for the brand,” reads the abstract. “The authors further demonstrate that the core negative effect of social crowdedness is contingent on the type of crowding (goal-related vs. goal-unrelated). In particular, a goal-related crowding decreases social withdrawal reactions, which, in turn, leads to greater preferences for interaction-oriented anthropomorphized brands compared to brands with other positioning strategies. In contrast, the effect of social crowdedness on consumer preferences for interaction-oriented anthropomorphized brands remains negative in goal-unrelated crowded settings.”
What do you think, marketers?
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