Giving products new life

The charms of Mr. Peanut and the Michelin man may be stronger than you suspect, suggests a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, reports CBS News. Consumers respond more to products brought to life with human traits and characteristics than unanimated goods, according to lead author Pankaj Aggarwal, a professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. "This idea of human metaphors to examine products and consumer behavior is I think so fascinating because that's what we do all the time." Aggarwal and co-author Ann L. McGill of the University of Chicago evaluated consumer response to products imbued with human characteristics in three experiments. In the first trial, participants were shown different photographs of cars — some of which featured a car's front grill shaped like a smile and others like a frown. Participants, asked to evaluate the “new” cars preferred the one with a smiling grate. In a second experiment, participants evaluated pictures of a “family of beverages” packaged in four bottles of different sizes. They preferred the “family of beverages” compared to four identically sized bottles. In a third trial, researchers showed pictures of two bottles, personified with good-twin and evil-twin characteristics. Participants responded more favorably to the good-twin bottles, a finding that suggests marketers must choose human characteristics carefully. Personifying products can prove immensely powerful. "There is this implicit assumption that this is likely to make the brand of a product more relatable and people might actually prefer the product as a result," said Aggarwal. I explained the findings to 92-year-old dandy Mr. Peanut, who seemed in total agreement and even appeared to wink. In 2006, Planters conducted an online poll to determine whether to add a bow tie, cufflinks, or a pocketwatch to Mr. Peanut. The public voted for no change. Now that’s staying power.