James Swift

24 January 2022

Strategist’s Digest: Cute logos protect against punishment 

Contagious digests the most interesting and relevant research from the world of advertising and beyond, because there’s just too much to read and too little time

Too Cute to be Bad? Cute Brand Logo Reduces Consumer Punishment Following Brand Transgressions 

By Felix Septianto and Jun Bum Kwon. Published in the International Journal of Research in Marketing.

Give it to me in one sentence.

A cute logo hides a multitude of sins.

Give me a little more detail.

The researchers conducted a series of experiments to test whether people would be less inclined to punish a brand for a transgression if it had a cute logo.

Specifically, they were interested in kindchenschema (as opposed to whimsical) cuteness, which refers to baby-like features that trigger people’s caretaking instincts.

The experiments typically involved showing a group of people either a cute or realistic animal logo and then telling them that the (fictional) company to which the logo belonged had done wrong, for instance by not paying employees or by raising the price of a medicine by an obscene amount.

In some experiments, the researchers then asked the participants to rate their intention to punish the brand; in others they arranged the test in such a way that participants had the opportunity to cheat the brand out of some money.

The results showed that people were less inclined to punish a transgressing brand and less likely to cheat it out of money when it had a cute logo.

Further tests revealed that participants were motivated by a desire to protect the brand from harm, which was in turn motivated by a belief that the brand was still developing and learning (however, the researchers note that other motivating factors seem to be at play, too).

As a result, brands that repeated the same transgressions multiple times were no less likely to be punished, because participants no longer believed they were learning and developing.

Why is this interesting?

The lesson here is that if you are starting a brand and plan to be evil (but just once) then you can mitigate the fallout with a doe-eyed logo.

We jest. It’s just a fascinating piece of research into consumer behaviour and more fuel for the argument that logos are the most salient brand asset. Past research has shown that logos can influence brand loyalty, equity and overall performance.

Any weaknesses?

Beyond the slight confusion about what motivates people to want to protect a brand with a cute logo, it’s worth keeping in mind that these are all lab experiments, not tested in the real world.

Where can I find the whole report?

Here, but it’s not free.

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