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Don Burleson Blog 










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 and betrayed.

  • 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 marketing tool

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 forest fire? 

The marketing of "orphan dolls" is a perfect example, where anthropomorphic customers "rescue" a doll from an "orphanage".

Associating powerful human emotions with a product is the goal of every marketer, and anthropomorphism can be a powerful tool.


Thinking with Animals: New Perspectives on Anthropomorphism, Columbia University Press, 2005, hardcover, ISBN 0231130384

Edsger Dijkstra, the world famous computer scientist had thoughts on the roots of anthropomorphism in a treatise called 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 than helpful."




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