When I was a little kid, I remember calling my preschool “Kokiri,” which was the Korean word for “elephant”. This was not because there was an actual elephant in my preschool, but because the school’s mascot was an elephant. When I was a kid, I loved elephants, so going to preschool every morning was fun because it felt like I was going to school with the elephant. Almost two decades later, I still distinctly remember my preschool’s logo that was adorned with a giant smiling elephant with big brown eyes. Until college, my school mascots for elementary, middle, and high school were in fact, all happy animals. From the elephant to the cubs, then to the bears, and finally the tigers, they were all googly-eyed animals happy to see you every morning, welcoming you to the over rationalized world of public education. Like my experience in school, other businesses have also utilized animals in their logos and commercials. This strategy of using animals in advertising can offer a considerable advantage that can allow a brand to bring great results. I know that if my school’s logo had been of a scary spider or a head of broccoli, I would not have peacefully let my parents take me to school. This paper will discuss why animals have such a potent influence in marketing, and a possible research method to discuss how effective this strategy is.
Over the last few decades, studies have shown that using certain animals in advertisements have been very effective. Consumers are more likely to not only remember a commercial, but also have a more positive reception to an ad featuring certain animals (Stone, 2014). Taco Bell noticed a huge explosion in sales in 1999 when they started featuring a Chihuahua in their ads. According to Latimes.com, when the dog retired from commercials, Taco Bell had its largest drop in sales in its history.
Understanding this strange animal and human interaction in the business sphere can be multi-faceted and difficult to understand. Some attribute to the fact that there are specific animals are often traditionally known to be symbolic of a virtue. One example is that the dove often represents peace, especially in the Biblical community. We see this in tourism too, where certain animals symbolically play key roles in tourism advertising (Grouchy, 2016). It is also known that children are also known to respond better to animals in advertisements too. Frosted Flakes cereal is a good example of successful implementation of an animal as a marketing strategy towards children. Tony the Tiger evolved with health trends during the time, redrawn to be leaner and taller to motivate kids to eat healthier. Tony the Tiger eventually was an American icon for children. Throughout his featured ads, he was an ambassador for a healthy breakfast, promoted sport, and influenced kids to chase healthier habits. Frosted Flakes was so successful, and some attribute it to Tony’s endearing influence on children (Calvert, 2008). In addition, according to an article from National Geographic, politicians too have been using animals as a political prop- often using dogs to symbolize characteristics of a warm family or to seem homely. This in a way, is also a business, as a vote can be synonymous to money. In most cases, animals play an intrinsic role in our society. Our familiarity and innate curiosity with animals can be a very strategic marketing ploy. However, some groups may not react the same way.
While businesses may have more sales if they use animals in their marketing strategy, there are also drawbacks to this plan. Using animals in advertisements may be expensive for just a short commercial. During the Super bowl, Budweiser spent over 3 million dollars for a 30 second ad featuring Clydesdale horses. They argue that the profits gained from the advertisements make up for the tremendous startup costs (Stone, 2014). In addition, certain cultural, religious, or ethnic groups may dislike certain animals. One example is the Kangaroo. According to an article from BBC News, there are certain farming regions of Australia, where the Kangaroo can reach plague-like conditions and destroy farming. Thus, having for example, a tractor company with a Kangaroo logo on it, may not be perceived well by farmers afflicted by Kangaroos destroying their farm. Some groups may dislike a live animal in a commercial due to ethical issues. They may believe that using live animals for human purposes is highly unethical, and may look down on the company. These obvious reasons make using animals as a bad marketing strategy for these specific groups.
From what I have seen on the effects of having animals in advertising, I argue that using symbolic animals in advertising can significantly increase the number of sales. This is because I believe that humans can consciously understand the world around them by simplifying the world into symbols. This level of mental intelligence is what allowed us to create language, societies, and law. In fact, the late Confucius one said, “Signs and symbols rule the world, not rules and laws.” However, to fully understand this quote, one must go back to when they were first born. Babies are required to use senses to understand the world. They don’t have the mental capacity for language yet, so they rely on the combination of these physical senses to quickly understand the physical aspect of the world. We learn immediately what is hot and what is cold. What smells nice and what smells bad. While this is important, another significant facet of adulthood is knowing what is deeper than just the physical. Understanding human virtues, traits, and even morals are important aspects of being an adult. However, we cannot learn from our physical senses how to recognize morality.
Stories we read as young kids have been subconsciously training us to think about what is right and what is wrong. Take for example, the famous story of the “Rabbit and the Tortoise.” From this story, we subconsciously symbolize rabbits with speed and tortoises with being slow. For this reason, having a rabbit on a logo for a computer program to speed up your laptop could be an effective marketing strategy. On the contrast, seeing the same logo but with a tortoise, would not be as effective. This type of literary analysis is not exclusive to just literature. Movies too, have allowed children to understand the world through symbols. Take for example, the movie “The Lion King”. From this movie, children subconsciously symbolize lions as almost godlike animals and hyenas as evil criminals. From “The Little Mermaid” children can similarly associate sea gulls as goofy, or octopi as malicious creatures. From recalling these children classics already, kids are trained and taught to symbolize specific animals that have specific personas, personalities, or traits like humans. I believe these movies and literature have intrinsic lessons in human lives. These lessons could be teaching about patience, or about human dramas, such as the conquest for true love or the power struggles in a family drama. Personifying animals not only helps these children understand what is happening, but it is also training them to learn what is beneath the physical, through symbols.
If I were to use an animal in an advertisement, I would not solely base my judgement on what children recognize, but also the culture’s perception of the animal. In Korea, the perception of dogs has changed significantly in the last century. From being known as vicious and rabid creatures, they are now one of the fastest growing demographics to have pet dogs (Kim, 2016). Thus, if I wanted to create an advertisement for my day cay center in Korea, using dogs in my ad would work today, as most Korean’s recognize dog’s to be friends and family rather than a monster. However, this advertisement would not have worked a century ago as Korean’s perceived the dog to be a monster, and using them in an ad for a day cay center would be rather foolish. This is why it is important to understand the demographic your advertisement is targeting.
I’d like to set up an online questionnaire to answer the question, “Is the way an animal is culturally symbolized the reason why it is so effective in advertising?” I’d like to do this questionnaire in America, by having a set of logos featuring different animals for an unknown company. In addition to these, I would also have an additional logo with no animal. One example list of animals could be a cockroach, a rat, a lamb, a dog, a dove, and a horse. In addition, I would keep controls by not describing what the company is about, presenting the logos all on one page, and asking one million people to do this experiment. From this experiment, I would be able to determine which animals on the list would be the most popular for a logo with an unknown company. From there I would be able to draw conclusions on why one animal may be more popular than the other animals.
A similar but secondary experiment I would design, is to now be discreet about the company. This is so I can learn which industry and company types would work best with which animal. For instance, I could disclose that the company was a day care center. I would then set the questionnaire up to learn which animal logo would be the best on a day cay center. Similarly, I could do this with a race car manufacturing company or a sign for a religious prayer room. Finally, I could ask them which animal they would recommend representing and symbolize a company. By doing this, I can now attach quantifiable data to show which animal best symbolizes the goods of a company.
In conclusion, we have been taught from a very young age to symbolize the world around us. We are subjected to stories and movies about animals playing human characters, often symbolizing a specific human trait. By manifesting human drama through a medium such as animal symbols, children can understand and perceive the point of the story more easily. In a way, we kind of view these characters as refractions of our own personalities. By personifying animals as a symbol, businesses and markets can utilize an intrinsic nature of humans to their advantage. Utilizing animals that represent positive traits in a human’s life will work well. Animals that symbolize the opposite, will not do well. I believe that subconsciously, we still intrinsically interpret the world through symbols. I believe that therefore, certain animals work with successfully in advertising.
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