The Erwin Center for Brand Communications is proud to support various research initiatives across Clemson’s campus that impact the brand communications industry.
One of the current projects of Dr. Oriana Aragón, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Clemson University, focuses on the influence of “cuteness,” i.e. cute little beings in relation to product and brand message framing and impact on purchase intentions. Marketing and branding efforts have used cuteness in their communications to capture consumers’ attentions and to bring about good feelings. Because cute, little beings bring about strong desires to care for, preferences to look at and a sense of liking, it is no wonder that cute babies and puppies are so commonly used in messaging. Until now, the effects of cuteness have been considered, generally, as a wholesale positive in messaging, but her research is finding evidence that this is not always the case.
Specifically, her research has shown that people’s own desire to become parents, and the way that infant care is described in brand communications, can affect consumers’ engagement with babies and the products with which they are associated. These findings are important because modern-day populations are shifting, in that individuals are delaying having children, if at all. The desire to have children that was once more commonplace in consumers is not as apparent today, and this desire interacts in interesting ways with attentional engagement to cute babies. Therefore, when brand managers add cute babies to branding and marketing communications, their efforts could have unintended consequences on consumer engagement with those brands and products.
Another one of Dr. Aragon’s research interests focuses on emotional responses to cuteness. The human brain is wired to find certain traits “cute,” such as those in babies and puppies, and this emotion comes to life as a result of the neurons in the brain associated with the rewards system. In 2015, she first identified the phenomenon of “cute aggression,” which is an over-the-top response to cuteness which can involve urges to squeeze, clench one’s teeth and bite. “Cute aggression” is an example of what is called a dimorphous expression, in which the display on the outside does not normatively “match” what is going on, on the inside; people who show cute-aggression actually feel very strong warm, positive feelings toward cute little beings in contrast to these more aggressive, external actions.
Her research into the effects of cuteness on people is of high public interest and is frequently requested by various media outlets. Internationally, the research into cuteness and expression has been covered in over 300 media outlets worldwide. In the US and UK, it has been featured in news outlets such as New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, and Business Insider; in television such as Discovery News, CNN, Good Morning America, QI, and Newsweek Magazine; and in specialized publications such as Buzzfeed News, National Geographic and Scientific American. Check out the link below to see more!
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More about Dr. Oriana Aragón: Dr. Oriana Aragón is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at Clemson University and was trained in Social Psychology at Yale University where she received her Ph.D. Her research interests consistently align with human emotions and their consequences for observable human behavior and studies how we perceive, engage and react emotionally to the people and things that we encounter. Dr. Aragón is currently working on building a theoretical model of emotion expression in the realm of marketing and other projects such as why at times our emotional expressions are not congruent with how we might feel, as when people display “nervous laughter” and “tears of joy.” She is also studying the persuasive power of “cuteness,” or its ability to capture attention and how sustained attention might differ dependent upon a person’s parental motivations. Dr. Aragón also investigates issues of inclusion and best education practices within academia and business, including developing the EPIC model that assesses the process by which employees and students adopt new organizational initiatives. Lastly, she works with Dr. Margaret Clark, her graduate school advisor, and Dr. Lindsey Beck in exploring how it is that people navigate the initiation of new relationships.
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