Anthropomorphism in Marketing
by Donald Burleson
Anthropomorphism is defined loosely as the
attribution of human emotions to animals and inanimate objects, and
anthropomorphism is heavily used in marketing.
Anthropomorphism is prevalent in children's
book where animals dress in human clothes and feel human emotions,
and it's not uncommon to find children express anthropomorphism,
usually in the sense of feeling guilty when a favorite toy is lost
or damaged. Movie producers (especially Disney and Pixar) use
anthropomorphism in almost every movie, most notably "Toy Story"
and "Finding Nemo" just to name a few.
Even adult males express anthropomorphism, and
it appears to be a very powerful emotion in some people:
Some adults feel anthropomorphism when they
sell their old cars and feel like the car is feeling abandoned
Obese people often say that they must
finish their meat because they don't want the dead animal to
feel as-if it's like was given for no good cause.
Computer professionals sometimes attribute
human feelings to software as evidenced by the old joke "Don't
anthropomorphize computers: they hate that."
So, why is anthropomorphism such a powerful
tool? Let's take a closer look.
Anthropomorphism as a
Anthropomorphism is powerful and being able to
attribute human feeling to products (especially guilt emotions) can
be a powerful tool. Imagine the sales that you could command
if you could make your customers feel compelled to buy a product so
that it does not feel betrayed or sad. Remember the TV ad
where Smokey the Bear cries while standing on the burnt embers of a
The marketing of "orphan dolls" is a perfect
example, where anthropomorphic customers "rescue" a doll from an
Associating powerful human emotions with a
product is the goal of every marketer, and anthropomorphism can be a
Thinking with Animals: New Perspectives on
Anthropomorphism, Columbia University Press, 2005, hardcover,
Edsger Dijkstra, the world famous computer
scientist had thoughts on the roots of anthropomorphism in a
On anthropomorphism in science:
"as soon as we allow ourselves to be
seduced by the analogy to describe the Thing in anthropomorphic
terminology, we immediately lose our control over which human
connotations we drag into the picture. And as most of those are
totally inadequate, the anthropomorphism becomes more misleading