Print Design Hotness: Adorable Little Animals

What is it about the cuteness?

I thought I'd take a break from searingly insightful political printing commentary today to discuss a design trend that's as baffling as it is compelling. That is, the use of cute animals in advertising campaigns.

Websites and print campaigns alike employ the cute animal design technique apparently at random. The businesses and products advertised by cute animals generally have nothing to do with cute animals. For example, they seem to be particularly popular amongst telecoms and in IT.

Why choose cute animals? Maybe to make those cold, faceless corporations look less threatening. Or could it be that cute animals are, in and of themselves, so overwhelmingly appealing that you'd actually be letting down shareholders by not using them to grow business? This second theory is substantiated by many popular news aggregation sites, like FARK and Fishki, where the majority of visual content space is split between pictures of sexy women and pictures of cute animals.

In fact, it may be the internet itself that gave birth to the cute animal design trend. Although it was never pinpointed previously throughout the course of human history, the advent of the internet and the creation of content based on the interests of average people, proved first, the obvious, that we all love porn, and second, that right behind porn, we love cute animals. Looking at pictures of them, commenting on their cuteness, sharing the cuteness with our friends and family. The internet revealed the terrible truth: cute isn't just for kids and people who collect ornamental puppies, we all love cute.

Although the use of animal mascots isn't new, this trend is. Two distinct elements make it different from the use of animals in the past:

  • The animals used in design today generally don't have anthropomorphic characteristics. They don't sing or dance, they're not cartoons drawn to look like babies. Generally, the plain old appeal of the photographic image of an animal is employed.
  • The animals do not have to be conventionally cute. Fish, lizards, and insects can be used to ask viewers to see cuteness in a fresh, new way.
  • Despite the naturalistic approach, the animals are always cute. They're not funny, or fierce, just small, delicate, and unassuming in appearance, seeming to say, “I, in the very fact of my existence, say it all.”
  • Yes, our sometimes fuzzy, sometimes scaly friends say it all. They don't have to have anything to do with the product or service being advertised, or even with the direction of or the copy used in the advertising. They just have to be there, brilliantly colored, tiny fingered, huge eyed.

    And how does a totally unrelated element function as ad design money in the bank? It may be that the simple existence of cuteness in the world actually elevates mood – more happiness = fewer worries = good consumer! This would make a lot of sense, since cuteness is also Mother Nature's way of protecting the weak and defenseless. Their cuteness makes us not want to kill them. In fact, it makes us so not want to kill them that we actually want to nurture them. And how can we best nurture an image of a baby bird, a bunny, or a little lizard? Why, by buying whatever they're selling, of course!

    Thanks Mother Nature, you've once again proven yourself the queen of design and the mother of inspiration!


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