chapter  10
10 Pages

Spokes-characters:Assurance, insurance and advice for marketers

ByBarbara J. Phillips

When I was a child, I had two teddy bears I called Donny and Terry. Donny had long blue fur and was mischievous; Terry was the responsible one – white with button eyes.My sister and I played endless games of make-believe with our stuffed animals. Fast forward to my undergraduate years when my parents called me at college and told me they were selling our home. ‘Come and get your stuff if you want it’, they urged. In my old room, I opened an unmarked cardboard box to find Donny and Terry nestled on top; suddenly, I was paralyzed with indecision. Over the phone, I explained what happened next to my sister. She gave a shocked whisper:‘You threw them out?’ She was horrified, not at losing two objects which stored precious memories and vestiges of our childhood identities (Belk 1988) but because Donny and Terry were alive. To a professional woman in her twenties, the disposal of two scraps of cloth and stuffing was not like engaging in a divestment ritual (McCracken 1986) but like tossing a baby in a dumpster. Marketing academics forget this. In our rush to study consumer difference

variables that trigger anthropomorphism, to give advice on how to design neotenous spokes-characters, or to explain the brand characteristics that lead to affinity through personification, we forget how easily and naturally humans make things come alive. Perceiving the human in non-human forms is one of the most common and instinctive types of metaphor (Lakoff and Johnson 1980); for example, all it takes is two cranberries over a slice of orange to see a smiling face in an All-Bran granola bar ad.This chapter sounds a cautionary note to marketing researchers looking to understand anthropomorphism.While some explanations can be uncovered by an appeal to science, much more can be explained by an appeal to magic. Overlooking the importance of magic leads to marketers trying to force consumers into brand relationships, instead of tapping into the cultural propensity that already exists to do so.The examples of the Geico gecko and the Aflac duck illustrate the power of marketing magic.