How Important is Being Cute to Retail Success?
While marketers of all stripes have long obsessed on what it takes to be "cool," maybe being "cute" is even more important — at least to the female gender.
Researchers at Cleveland State University have published a white paper examining "the roots of ‘cute’ and its evolution with reference to its relevance to marketers." Researchers in particular sought to gain "a better understanding of what it is like to form social attachment and loyalty in the context of cute consumption and consumer culture theory."
In investigating ways women make purchasing decisions, the researchers found the word "cute" being widely used by women to describe a broad variety of items, prompting the study.
"At a certain point, it just hit me like a sucker punch," lead author Elad Granot told the Vancouver Sun. "Female consumers hardly ever use the term ‘cool’ to describe anything; but they use ‘cute’ all the time, about almost everything."
Among the study’s findings:
- "Cute" is "feminine phenomenon" and rarely used by men to describe a product or item;
- "Cute" is liberally used by women across demographics, from teenagers to Boomers, and also generally used in the same context;
- While cute culture is said to have originated in Japan with an infantilization aesthetic (i.e., Hello Kitty), the western interpretation covers nearly any item evoking comfort, nostalgia, charm or cheerfulness.
Examples of "cute" items cited in the study, published in the Journal of Consumer Culture, included Victoria’s Secret’s Pink label, the Day-Glo accessories and retro sneakers linked with 1980s rave culture, and cars such as the Mini and Volkswagen.
One-on-one interviews with women led researchers to believe that the prevalent usage of the word spoke to a psychological need for reassurance, similarly to the way comfort food is said to be craved more during difficult economic times.
"Cuteness is a kind of cultural decoy," the researchers wrote. "(It’s) a soothing and simple distraction from a world whose boundaries and problems are becoming more complex by the day."
Mr. Granot told the Sun, "It’s a conscious decision made by consumers to cute-up their lives through consumption."
- A Socio-Marketing Analysis of the Concept of Cute and its Consumer Culture – Journal of Consumer Culture (sub. required)
- Omg, that is so CUTE! Study investigates favourite female adjective – Vancouver Sun
- The Cute Factor – The New York Times (tiered sub.)
- The Power of Cuteness – Stanford University
Why is “cute” used so often by women to describe a wide range of items? Do you agree with the study’s researchers on its “comfort” connotations? What lessons should marketers take from the study?