In marketing, critters can be an asset or a liability
Animals loom large in human culture and consciousness. That’s not news. At my house, Dudley practically runs the place (poodles are that smart). What is news is that our brains are very specifically wired to pay attention to animals of all kinds.
Recent research has revealed that some cells in the amygdala, a deep part of the brain known to process emotions, are specialized to detect animals. (The research appears in the journal Nature Neuroscience; read an NPR story here.) Scientists studied several parts of the brain, but only in the amygdala did they find cells that responded just to animals, not to people or objects. This makes evolutionary sense: animals can mean food or danger, both extremely important. (though Dudley is neither…go figure)
Earlier work hinted at this. For example, behavioral studies showed that we keep track of people and animals better than things. In one study, people shown a farm scene noticed when a tiny image of person or animal changed, but not when an entire grain silo disappeared.
It’s no wonder that marketers have instinctively turned to animals again and again. Take the MGM lion, which goes all the way back to 1916. Or the Firefox logo, or the Taco Bell Chihuahua. At Bidwell ID, we created a hummingbird logo for Glenmeadow, a retirement-living community. And think of all the sports teams that identify themselves with strong, threatening animals: eagles, hawks, tigers, lions, panthers, bulldogs, bulls, bears.
Still, be careful about associating an animal with your brand. Remember that disappearing grain silo? Just like sex and cuteness, animals are great attention-getters, but they don’t like to share the stage.
Consider these two dog-ad campaigns:
Traveler’s Insurance. Dogs and insurance are not a natural match, so I have to wonder whether the audience remembered what was being sold, never mind the specific brand.
Subaru. I’ll bet that their 2010 “dog-tested” ads were more successful, and not just because US News and World Report named one of them “Best Car Commercial of Superbowl XLIV Sunday.” We strongly associate dogs with cars. And Subaru knew that 7 out of 10 Subaru owners have pets. In contrast, check out their 2007 shark ad. Cool, but how many viewers remembered the brand?
Whether an animal serves as your logo or merely makes an appearance in an ad, it has to support the brand, not steal the show.