The Japanese have a way with cute -- think Hello Kitty cute. Culturally, that works not just appealing to children, but as an overall marketing/communications strategy. Think about how Japan has leveraged brand characters, such as the cat. This has not been seen much outside of Muffy in the Netherlands or the Simpsons -- extending a character from the non-brand cultural space, turning it into an artifact that simultaneously signifies and does not signify a brand.
But does "cute" work elsewhere?
In a study by Rebecca Dyer, a graduate student at Yale, showed that people actually are more aggressive when they are confronted with cuteness. In the study, 90 men and women were invited to watch a slide show. Some were shown a funny slide show, others a neutral slide show, and a third group watched a cute slide show. They were instructed to pop bubbles on the bubble wrap, as many or as little as they wanted just as long as they were engaging in some form of motion. The results showed that the group that watched the cute video popped 120 bubbles while those that viewed the funny and neutral slide show only popped 80 and 100 respectively.
The research interprets this “aggressive” behavior as normal, that the cute images make us want to care for the creature (cute puppy, wide-eyed baby). Then, because we can’t, we react in a negative way with aggression. It does not seem Dyer is not suggesting that if we see a cute baby we are going to sock it in the face because we can’t take it home; she is describing a phenomenon that explains why we are so taken by child-like images.
Psychology Today examines a similar affect of cute on the brain. The study concludes that cute babies’ photos elicit a response in our brain that is different than when shown a picture of an adult, whether we are male or female. Cute is cute and it all make us want to take care of the cute thing. Women, the study says, respond more intensely to pictures of their own babies and children.
When making a purchase, many Japanese take a holistic approach to a product and its presentation. Also, they may be more concerned how the purchase will affect their individual and group identities. It is possible a Japanese consumer may want to feel secure about their purchase and seek to minimize uncertainty. An understanding of the social-cultural underpinnings of these strategies will help foreign firms compete in Japan, but may also help other organizations the U.S. and E.U. with breaking down barriers to serve customers better.