Does this look like an infant face to you? Researchers say yes, and that such intentionally “cute” styling boosts sales.
It’s not really a question of consumers getting softer, but more that car manufacturers are getting smarter.
A study presented at this month's International Design and Emotion Conference (yes, there really is such a thing) finds vehicles whose front-ends resemble babies' faces are viewed by potential buyers as cuter.
OK, I guess that makes sense, but does it really help to sell cars?
"The warm, fuzzy, cuddly connotations are being used by manufacturers to offset the obvious fears that some consumers may have about safety," says Timothy Gilbert, chair of the automotive marketing department at Florida's Northwood University. "These small cars actually express a personality that people gravitate to, the same way they would an iPod."
So the answer is, apparently, yes.
Earlier this month, researchers from the University of Vienna and Switzerland's University of St. Gallen presented a study in which images of cars were altered to resemble babies' faces: headlights made 20 per cent larger, grilles 20 per cent smaller, and air-intakes 20 per cent higher and narrower. The result was that people found the cars — compact models especially — cuter than in their unaltered form.
"This makes pre-existing discussions about faces in cars much more robust," says Sally Augustin, an environmental psychologist and editor of Research Design Connections. "If people feel a positive attachment to a car, it's reasonable to think that sales of the car will increase."
Psychologist Michael R. Cunningham explains that "we're wired to respond to a baby's cuteness."
Next time you’re out motoring, take notice of some of the “faces” you see driving by. Are those “dimples” on the smiling grille of that Mazda3? Is that an angry expression on the front of that Honda motorcycle? What is it that makes you want to walk up and hug a Volkswagen Beetle?
Car-culture expert Jim Conley, a sociologist at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, says it's an extension of the many ways in which people use a vehicle's styling to reflect lifestyle. Call it the other end of the spectrum from the ubiquitous jacked-up pick-up truck.
Says Conley: "I don't think it's a coincidence that the Mini Cooper is regarded as, pardon the expression, a 'chick car,' while the Charger is considered masculine."
Maybe guys like MINIs because they remind them of their wives or girlfriends. Hey, we’re hard-wired for this reaction. We just can’t help but love our MINIs.
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