Anthropomorphism is “the attribution of human characteristics to non-human creatures and beings, phenomena, material states and objects or abstract concepts.” At least that’s what Wikipedia says.
Nobody knows this better than the marketers involved with brands and branding. I know of people who talk about their pets like they were their children. Branding experts go one step (too far) further, and refer to brands as if they were people.
I’ve suffered through this in silence for too long. The following snippet from a Brandweek article about…well, I really don’t know what the article was about…is the straw that broke the silence’s back:
In a Times Square studio last Thursday, actor Ed Norton was interviewed as part of a Diet Coke promotion. The interview was beamed live to billboards in Times Square, as well as on the Diet Coke Web site and banner placements sprinkled on sites like E! Online, Cosmopolitan and Hello. “It’s fascinating because it’s really about the brand letting it all hang out and not being afraid of messing up,” said Lars Bastholm, chief digital creative officer at Ogilvy North America. “If brands want to … be seen as ‘friends,’ then they also need to have flaws like real people have.”
The emphasis in the last sentence is mine.
This is a fascinating notion: That, in order to be seen as a friend, a brand needs to have flaws like real people have. Like REAL people. Not like fake people, but real people.
As a seriously flawed real person, I’m very qualified to determine which flaws brands should have. (It’s possible that you’re flawed, too, but I can’t verify that you are a real person).
Here are some “flaws” that brands could have to help them be seen as “friends”:
1. An aspirin brand — take Tylenol, for example — could have a packaging “flaw” which would enable people to tamper with the product causing the deaths of people who use the product.
2. A brand of chocolate — could be one like Nestle’s, but it doesn’t have to be — could have a “flaw” and contain e.coli bacteria. There must be consumer research to show that many people associate e.coli with positive emotions, so this could be a really good “friend-building” flaw.
3. The US car makers seem to be struggling these days, so let’s see if we can find a “flaw” that will help them build their brand. Oh, here’s one: What if they manufacture cars with a minor flaw that causes the gas tank to explode on minor collisions? That brand would be my best friend.
Is it any wonder that marketing isn’t a well respected function in many organizations across many industries? When CEOs and CFOs hear a marketer talk about how their brands need to have “flaws like real people” they just nod their heads in silence and play along. That’s because they’re too polite and too political to come right out and say what they’re really thinking.
Which is: “WTF is this guy talking about?!@#!*#@!”