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Beastly branding

The owl of hootsuite.com

In my previous post, I talked about brand mascots: when to use them to boost your brand, and when to avoid them.

After the blog post was published, one of my blog readers pointed out that the majority of brand mascots are, in fact, animals.

This prompted me to do a bit more digging into the subject, and here’s what I found: a very interesting paper by Professor Stephen Brown from Ulster Business School: Where the wild brands are: some thoughts on anthropomorphic marketing. (( Brown, Stephen., Marketing Review, Fall 2010, Vol. 10, issue 3, pp. 209-224 ))

The paper gives many examples of companies using animals as brand mascots, and discusses which beasts are most popular.

Ronald McDonald

Throughout history, humankind has had a love-hate relationship with wild animals. On the one hand, we fear and detest powerful predators, especially those that destroy our crops and kill our livestock. On the other hand, we envy and admire their speed and grace, adorn ourselves in their fur and feathers, and worship them as totemic deities who symbolise our tribes, our teams, our territories. (( ibid. ))

In branding, mascots became popular a century ago in France, when almost every company adorned its products with friendly looking cats, dogs and insects. Interestingly, fictional people’s characters have also been used quite successfully in branding. For example, the 116-year old Michelin man is still alive and well-known.

Brown concludes that fictional human characters are most popular brand mascots, followed by birds, domestic animals, and wild animals (so, SCHMOOZY FOX is still doing okay here!). Insects, aquatic creatures, vegetables and body parts (!) have much less popularity, although I would imagine that some friendly insects such as bees and lady birds are okay to use!

The main rule of thumb is that “Brand animal popularity is directly related to the species’ physiological and psychological distance from humankind.” (( ibid. )) The closer the species to the human kind, the easier it is for people to “process” a brand mascot.

In terms of animals, domestic and wild, it’s interesting to see that different countries might attribute different qualities to the same animal. So, study the character of your brand beast well before you go global!

burts_bees

3 psychological reasons why low-income consumers buy status goods

Image by shannonkringen on Flickr

Here’s a fascinating study that many nerdy (and funky) marketers will find useful.

The study was written by professors Niro Sivanathan from London Business School and Nathan C. Pettit from Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell and it’s called Protecting the self through consumption: status goods as affirmational commodities. Professor Sivanathan from LBS has kindly shared the study with me, and today I’m happy to give you a short overview of its main findings.

Let me start by asking you this simple question: WHO are luxury goods produced for? If you think that it’s only wealthy folks who wear expensive clothes and go vacationing in the world’s best hotels, you will be seriously mistaken.

The truth is, low-income individuals often pay for luxuries that they can theoretically not afford.

How can this be explained? The main reasons are, according to the study, psychological.  Sometimes, buying a luxury good, or indulging in a luxury service is the simplest way to repair our egos.

This can take several forms:

1) People seek status goods when they experience self-threat and need to heal psychological wounds. This is true for both high and low-income individuals.

For example, if you are a woman who has just gone through a divorce, you’d be likely to find yourself tempted to spend significant amounts of money on new clothes, beauty treatments, gym subscriptions and exotic vacations. Because this can make you feel good about yourself -- and this is worth paying a high price for.

Interestingly, the study showed that when individuals have another route to repair their self-integrity -- an alternative to acquiring status goods -- they tend to be less interested in seeking these goods.

2) Status goods serve the purpose of protecting an individual’s ego from future self-threats. They often serve as a buffer, or armor, against things that can go wrong in the future. In the study, those individuals who were asked to imagine that they had an expensive car, felt less threatened to face future self-threats than those without a car.

3) Some individuals’ lowered self-esteem drives their willingness to pay a premium on status goods. This explains economists’ observation that it is “often those earning the least that spend the greatest fraction of their income on conspicuous consumption”.  They acquire goods not for their functional properties, but to signal social status.

I remember witnessing my friends spending all their annual savings in one go (!) on a pair of shoes or jeans right after the Soviet Union collapsed. Status was everything and people were prepared to give all the cash they had to signal their associations with expensive and, importantly, famous, brands.

What might be the implications of this study for those who want to build Funky Brands™ ?

  • First of all, a status good is technically speaking not only simply a very expensive and good quality item. It is first and foremost a strong b r a n d. From the consumer’s perspective, there’s for sure no reason to spend any money, especially if her income is not that great, on something that is not known by others.
  • It’s often not just luxury, but affordable luxury goods producers, who are able to deliver on two important aspects. First, they can sell their products at prices which are not as high as pure luxury. And second, they are able to infuse these goods with an aura of style, luxury and status.

So, if you urgently need to repair your ego, you can do it perfectly well by getting yourself a Victoria’s Secret lingerie set, and skipping La Perla altogether.

Join the Affordable Luxury group on LinkedIn, and share the news and opinions about this exciting segment.

SCHMOOZY FOX in the news

The concept of Funky Brands™ is becoming more and more known, and we've been quoted by major international online publications recently. Entrepreneur.com has published a great article How to Name -- or Re-name -- Your Business, and I am quoted there.

JUMP, a European online portal for advancing women in the workplace, has published a story about me and SCHMOOZY FOX in their Inspiring Women category.

Help spread this news, and stay tuned on more great stories dedicated to Funky Brands™!