Watching a cute animal video on the Internet is the digital equivalent of doing a line of cocaine. It’s quick and easy to consume content that releases sweet, sweet dopamine, but without the physical or legal repercussions, and you can even share it with your grandma. But the best part? It’s free…well, just about. As “edgy” university students are quick to warn: In the absence of a product, you are the product, but the reality is simpler and a bit more sinister.
In the vast marketplace of the Internet, attention is a scarce resource paid only to the most worthy. Cute animals belong to an exclusive category of content—joined by the likes of pornography and streaming platforms—that demand the highest price: total viewer attention. But for most brands, porn is still a touchy subject (pun very much intended), and product placements in a movie or Netflix show are not a possibility. Adorable animals, however, are universally appealing, easily accessible, and free from controversy, making them the best hirsute endorsers ahead of David Hasselhoff.
Sex, despite its reduced role in modern marketing communications, will always be a persuasive sales-driving force because we’re biologically wired to want it. But cuteness, if initial research is to be believed, may just be as formidable a salesman. Studies show that seeing cute things releases dopamine in our brains. We also tend to care more for cuter babies and animals on the premise that cuteness is an evolutionary trait that increases an infant’s chances of survival. All this shows that there is an inherent biological desire for cuteness, as is there a physical hunger for food, a lust for sex, and thirst for water. Now, the question is: who will take advantage of this innate demand?
A quick survey of pet celebrities on Instagram with millions of followers, and pet-related FB pages and communities boasting hundreds of thousands of members proves that cuteness sells. And these guys are selling more than just pet food and accessories. According to an article on billionpet.com, the owners of “Menswear Dog”, a shiba inu dressed in gentleman’s clothing, earn $10,000-$20,000 a month off of their prized pet—that’s up to P1 million a month!
Major marketers who were quick to the uptake such as Airbnb, Mercedes-Benz, Coach, and Vogue have already tapped these animals to promote their products in the past. Expect more brands to come in as social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram continue to develop their marketplaces and create new opportunities to close the loop for their advertisers.
Selling cuteness isn’t new. Old cartoons, dolls, and miniatures are proof of that, but what has changed is the larger market for cuteness. Since social media 2.0, cuteness isn’t just for kids anymore and brands have noticed this for a while. It’s just that content platforms, up to this point, have largely rewarded creators and aggregators. Now, they’re forced to adapt to the attention spans of a new generation of digital natives, and cater to advertisers with shrinking budgets at the same time. That means creating more innovative avenues for ads without ruining the cuteness-consuming experience, so don’t be surprised to see more brand logos in the latest corgi butts compilation.
According to the EULA (end user license agreement), we don’t really have a right to complain. That’s just how it is. As long as brands keep the heck away from our porn, I think we can tolerate a little more advertising elsewhere.