Cuteness is generally defined as being attractive in an adorable or endearing way (oxforddictionaries.com). Babies are so c-u-t-e! They have a collection of features such as large eyes and rounded cheeks.These features make them seem vulnerable, and we automatically want to protect them, and direct all our attention to them. Babies are just irresistible! Playing with them, cuddling them, and blowing them kisses just makes us happy. And I’m sure the babies love this attention too. Does this cuteness affect consumption behavior? Of course it does!
When primed with baby schemas, people are more likely to be less indulgent. Because baby schemas such as their faces on products elicit carefulness, people are more aware of what they are consuming. Therefore, indulgence behavior decreases. This can be used in policies that promote healthy eating habits such as the “Let’s Move” campaign by Michelle Obama. Does this then extend to regular cute products? Research shows that it does, but produces the opposite effect.
Cuteness not related to babies increases indulgence consumption behavior. Nenkov, and Scott (2014), propose that products considered to be cute elicits humor and playfulness. So, when you buy that product, you think about the rewards the product will give you. For example, if you use an ice cream scoop that you view as cute, you are likely to eat more ice cream compared to a person who is using a normal scoop. Using the cute scoop puts you in a good mood (the getting high kind of feeling). It also makes you feel like you are a fun person. This represents a form of advertising in the marketplace.
To examine the effects of general cuteness on indulgent behavior, Nenkov, and Scott examined the relationship between baby cuteness and product cuteness, and their effects on indulgence in subsequent behavior. Participants were given a cookie with a smiley face or a neutral cookie. Also, the participants were either told that the cookie was from a children cookie store or a regular store. For example, they changed the brand name of the cookie; “The Kid’s Cookie Shop” vs “The Cookie Shop”. After viewing the cookie, participants got a hypothetical dinner situation where they had to carefully choose from two entree options because they were watching their weight. One entree option was rich and delicious but it was more fatty (you probably wouldn’t want to choose this option if you are on a diet). The other option was more healthy but not as tasty as the first one (you definitely want to choose this if you are watching your weight). The results found that participants who viewed the cute smiley cookie from The Cookie Shop preferred the rich tasty option even though they were watching their diet. Participants who viewed the cute cookie from The Kid’s Cookie Shop chose the healthy option. This suggests that viewing the brand name changed subsequent behavior. For example, the cookie from the kids’ store might have elicited careful behavior, compared to those who did not (the general store).
Overall, cute products induce indulgent consumption behavior. This behavior extends to other products too. Merely, being primed with a cute product leads to increases in binge shopping or eating. In the real world, this is true in forms of advertising used. Sometimes, people indulge as a form of reward. Imagine yourself after a stressful week of midterm papers and exams, and thinking about therapy shopping. In this case, you are rewarding yourself for being strong throughout your week by increasing your consumption behavior.
Nenkov, G. Y., & Scott, M. L. (2014). “So Cute I Could Eat It Up”: Priming Effects of Cute Products on Indulgent Consumption. Journal of Consumer Research, 41, 326-341.