Why anthropomorphism is so effective in television advertising?

Animals are a part of our everyday life. They may be pets, part of our occupation (vets, farmers), or just the local wildlife we observe outside our window each and every day. We have a close relationship with these creatures, and whether these animals make us feel overjoyed or make us infuriated, or somewhere within that range, our emotions are caught up.

Currently, more and more frequently we see animals used in all types of media. Movies, TV shows, books, and smart-phone applications all have had an influx of animal-related content.


In a marketing sense, animals are heavily used in advertisements to attract us into purchasing a product. We see features in them that we see in our own human lives. Related or unrelated to the topic or theme of the product, animals are used to make the consumer find common ground with the advertisement.

This is heavily due to the strong bond humans have with animals, and the increasing trend of pets as loveable, surrogate family members (Tomkovick, 2000). In the 1990’s it was reported that, in America, 1-in-6 Super Bowl commercials featured some form of wildlife (Tomkovick, 2000). Tomkovick also concluded that a positive relationship exists between the inclusion of animals in Super Bowl advertisements and advertisement likability.

Recently we’ve seen the “Compare the Meerkat” ads use a delicate play-on-words to place meerkats in a foreign and bizarre business environment. However, these ads serve their purpose and have been successful over a number of years. In fact the ads follow a pattern now where a new story line is introduced after a few months of presentation of the current ad. The audience’s attention becomes very focused again: intrigued to see what the new story lines will add to the continuing narrative.

So why is it that anthropomorphism is so effective in television advertising?

Our close relationship to them

 Our close association and appreciation for animals is one of the biggest factors in determining our likability of an advertisement. When we see an animal in an advertisement, we are immediately drawn to it.

Most families around the world have a pet, or have previously had one, so they immediately relate to the advertisement in a nostalgic way. By including animals in advertisements, it subtly illustrates the ways in which humans love pets, treat pets as family members, and deeply mourn pets when their lives end. Advertisers often attempt to tap this human–animal bond when they use animals in persuasive messages (Lacendorfer, Atkin, Reece, 2008).

As an audience we love to be able to relate to the content we view. Anthropomorphism is another method used by marketers to blur the lines between animal and man. When an advertiser dons an animal with, for example, human clothing, a human smile, or eyebrows, that animal becomes anthropomorphised (Spears, Bowen, Chakraborty 1996).

Marketers have long used anthropomorphism widely to create awareness or to maintain a relational connection and belongingness between the product and the consumer (Stone, 2014). Anthropomorphised animals are commonly used for advertising in two different ways;

  1. To act as a metaphor for the product itself.
  2. To help people associate with the animal by anthropomorphising it, which will in term help relate the company to the audience.

Examples of this include; the ‘Cadbury’ drumming gorilla, the ‘Bridgestone Tyres’ gecko, and the ‘M&M’s’ chocolate.

Stone notes that the animals that evoke loyalty, friendliness, and human-pet attachment are commonly used in advertisements. These emotions are considered as interactive and pertain to relationships. Thus, it is predicted that these emotions will spur the viewer to buy the product/service which otherwise may be overlooked at the store (Stone, 2014).

Forming an identity

If animals are successful in the initial advertisement, marketers of the company can build on this knowledge, featuring the animal numerously in future ad campaigns. The animal’s continual presence in a company’s advertising helps it symbolically act as the face of the company. A prime example of this is the ‘Kleenex’ toilet paper advertisements featuring a Labrador puppy.

Through years of advertising with these dogs, Kleenex has been able to build a reputable brand that uses the Labrador as a metaphor for its product, suggesting it is soft, luscious and comfortable- some features of which, similarly relate to the puppy.

Another aspect about this idea is that when animals act as the identity of the company, they act as a scapegoat for any misdemeanours associated with the company. For example- to use Kleenex again- audiences would associate the brand with cute puppies, and soft tissues. However, they would not generally associate Kleenex as a company that causes mass deforestation to produce their product. Even if this did cause a concern for the public, they wouldn’t lay the blame for this on the head of a golden 8-week-old Labrador?

Brand identity suggests consumers are more likely to remember the product and be expected to purchase it in the future (Kanungo, 1969; Brown, 2010).

Cheap Labour

Another point to touch on is the financial efficiency of using anthropomorphism in marketing. For a small business, which may not be able to afford a big personality or high quality production in their advertisement, using animals to illustrate your idea to a large television audience is a cheaper and successfully proven method of advertisement.


Advertisements that bring out some form of emotional connection from the audience are always going to be successful. One of the biggest reasons anthropomorphism works in television advertising is because of the strong historical attachment between animals and humans.

Some of these ads may not necessarily leave a positive impression on us; sometimes the marketer’s objective is to leave us feeling jarred.

As for the biology: “When you touch and look at your pet, it makes your brain release chemicals that make you feel good,” Herzog said.

Obama dog

Photo Credit

As for the need for affection: That boils down to the fact that pets offer unconditional love. And unconditional love feels good.

Indeed, the human fascination with animals is so ancient and so widespread that it seems to be a cross-cultural trait.



Chuck Tomkovick , Rama Yelkur & Lori Christians (2001) The USA’s biggest marketing event keeps getting bigger: an in-depth look at Super Bowl advertising in the 1990s, Journal of Marketing Communications, 7:2, 89-108.

Lancendorfer, Karen, JoAnn Atkin, and Bonnie Reece. “Animals In Advertising: Love Dogs? Love The Ad!”. N.p., 2008. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.

Spears, Nancy, John Mowen, and Goutam Chakraborty. “Symbolic Role Of Animals In Print Advertising: Content Analysis And Conceptual Development”. Journal of BusinessResearch, 37 (1996): 87-95.

Stone, Sherril. “The Psychology Of Using Animals In Advertising”. (2004): n. pag.

Kanungo, R. N. (1969). Brand Awareness: Differential roles of fittingness and meaningfulness of brand names. Journal of Applied Psychology, 53(2), 140-146.

Brown, S. (2010). The Penguin’s Progress: A Mashup for Managers. Marshall Cavendish: London.

Anderson, Emily. “This Is Why You Care More About Some Animals Than You Care About Humans | Bdcwire”. BDCWire. N.p., 2015. Web. 30 Mar. 2017.


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