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'I See You Baby, Shakin' That Ass': User Perceptions of Unintentional Anthropomorphism and Zoomorphism in Consumer Products

Jack Ingram , Louise Annable

Anecdotal evidence suggests, independently of any intentional use of human and animal visual references in the development of product detail, that many people respond to unintentional references, even treating products as people or animals, developing likes and dislikes that can be described in terms of the products' 'personalities' or 'characters'.

This paper describes a series of pilot experiments devised to be an objective examination of anecdotal evidence. They measured the extent to which respondents perceived animal and human physical features in everyday products, and the extent to which these perceptions correlated with positive and negative connotations. A total of 48 respondents were shown photographs of commonplace consumer products (kettles, shavers, vacuum cleaners, toasters, radios), and asked to rate them in terms of perceived anthropomorphic and zoomorphic (A & Z) references, and in terms of perceived abstract qualities (boring/exciting, hostile/friendly, happy/sad, uptight/carefree). A high degree of correlation was found between positive abstract qualities and greater
perception of A & Z references.

Further work utilized image morphing software to measure respondents’ preferences for finely differentiated modifications of visual detail of similar products, showing that subtle A & Z references were preferred over explicit parody.

Results suggest that the most effective use of A & Z references for embedding brand values is when they are barely perceived – they become evident when attention is drawn to them, but unnoticed by many consumers who may nevertheless be unconsciously attracted by the abstract qualities with which they are associated. There is the opportunity for designers to take the lead in embedding the visual triggers that tend to be discovered and activated in advertising campaigns such as Renault’s Megane television advertisement to the theme of Groove Armada’s ‘I see you baby (shakin’ that ass)’, which features the car’s hind quarters as expressive of a personality and attitude.


unintentional, anthropomorphism, zoomorphism, abstract qualities, experiments