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Was a Gender-Neutral Doll the Right Move for Mattel?

Posted by Dr. Erica Carranza

Fri, Oct 04, 2019

MattelCreatableWorldSized

Did I ever tell you about my dissertation…? Wait, don’t go! I promise it’s interesting.

It was 2002. My advisor and I had been studying gender stereotypes, which we found were still depressingly pervasive. Then, for my dissertation, I examined reactions to men and women who broke the mold. I thought that people would dislike stereotypically masculine (e.g., ambitious) women and feminine (e.g., sensitive) men, but try to hide it—so I measured their emotional reactions using facial EMG.

Facial EMG involves placing pairs of electrodes over muscles that contract when we frown or smile, as shown on the Mona Lisa. (My apologies to any art history majors out there.) People can’t mask the immediate, involuntary emotional reactions that register in their faces. Most of that muscular activity is too fast and too subtle to be captured by human or computer/AI-based facial coding, but EMG captures it well. At CMB, we have a method of measuring emotional reactions tailored to market research—it does an excellent job and doesn’t involve electrodes. But if you expect people to actively lie about their feelings, facial EMG is the way to go.

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What did I find in analyzing literally millions of milliseconds of facial activity? Feminine men elicited warm smiles from women—but were laughed at by other men. And masculine women were universally reviled. Lots of eyebrow furrowing. People didn’t even try to hide it.

Add this to the many other forces that encourage adherence to gender norms—like the manly men and womanly women portrayed in everything from blockbuster movies to local ads—and it’s no shock that kids learn gender roles early. Kids are perceptive. They see stereotypical male and female characters held-up as ideals in toys and on TV, and can easily infer what’s expected of them.

In this way, gender stereotypes are both pervasive and constraining, like invisible straightjackets we wear everyday—we don’t have to let them confine us, but the pressure is always there.

That leads me to Mattel and Creatable World, their new gender-neutral doll. According to their official tagline, it’s “designed to keep labels out and invite everyone in—giving kids the freedom to create their own customizable characters again and again.”

Here is a major toymaker refusing to communicate an expectation that “boys will be boys” and “girls will be girls.” This is huge. Especially when we consider the crucial role of play for kids in imagining possibilities, exploring interests, connecting with others, and discovering oneself.

So did Mattel do the right thing from a moral perspective?

Yes. No doubt in my mind. When kids don’t feel the need to live-up to masculine and feminine ideals, they get to be who they are without pressure or fear of reprisal. They can be smart, compassionate, strong, expressive, ambitious, fashionable, funny—or all of the above. It’s up to them!

But Mattel is a publicly traded company looking for healthy profits. Particularly nowadays, when so many things—online and off—compete for kids’ time and attention. So it’s also worth asking:

Was a gender-neutral doll the right move from a brand perspective?

Again, I’d say yes. It’s exactly the right move. Why? Because of the crucial role identity benefits play in driving brand appeal.

At CMB, we’ve identified four key psychological benefits brands need to deliver in order to drive appeal:

  • Functional Benefits (e.g., “checking-off” goals or to-dos; saving time; saving money)
  • Social Benefits (e.g., sense of community; conversation; social connection)
  • Emotional Benefits (e.g., positive feelings; enhanced joy; reduced pain)
  • Identity Benefits (e.g., pride and self-esteem; self-expression; a positive self-image)

We leverage all four in BrandFx, our proprietary approach to helping clients achieve brand growth. In fact, we recently fielded a BrandFx study with over 20,000 U.S. consumers. In total, they provided nearly 40,000 evaluations of major brands across multiple industries. We’re still knee-deep in analysis (more blogs to come as we roll-out our results!), but so far this much is clear:

Identity benefits are particularly important.

That holds true across brands and industries—even “rational” industries like financial services. But it’s especially true for brands in the entertainment space, like Mattel. With Creatable World, Mattel is helping kids explore, express, and embrace their unique identities with a doll that offers more possibilities and imposes fewer constraints. This will pay off in kids’ interest and engagement.

Yes, many parents may be against it. But I have two things to say about that based on what we’ve seen across multiple studies:

First: Kids tend to drive toy purchase trends. They see, they like, they ask… and ask… and ask… And parents want their kids to be happy, so kids often get what they want—even when their parents feel ambivalent about it.

Second: Most parents aren’t morally opposed to their kids playing with toys associated with the opposite gender. It’s that they’re afraid of other kids’ reactions. As a parent, I can relate. There are times I’ve steered my boys away from things that I thought might lead to the spirit-crushing, innocence-busting experience of being ridiculed by peers. But when parents see evidence of shifting norms and acceptance among kids, their fears will diminish—and the fact the Mattel has released a gender-neutral doll is evidence in itself. After all, Mattel knows kids, and they put a lot of money on the line. So, if my boys want a Creatable World doll, it’s theirs. Because what I really want is for them to be able to choose their paths—and feel valued for the amazing, unique individuals they are—without having to squeeze themselves into a narrow vision of what it means to be a man.

If change is on our doorstep, I’m ready to welcome it in, and I’m likely not the only parent who feels this way.

 


Erica CarranzaErica has a B.A. from Wellesley College and a Ph.D. in psychology from Princeton University. Prior to CMB, she led insights research at American Express, where she was a recipient of the CMO Award for Achievement in Excellence.

Topics: marketing strategy, brand health and positioning, digital media and entertainment research, growth and innovation, Identity, emotion, BrandFx, consumer psychology

Why We Still Use Facebook Despite Privacy Concerns

Posted by Kate Zilla-Ba

Wed, May 23, 2018

facebook (cropped)

The kids are on Insta and Snapchat, and even as those are a bit dated at this point, the question for Facebook seems to be how to stay relevant. But recent revelations about how Facebook had been using customer data have led to less of a backlash than might be expected. Why?

Complacency.

We humans tend to normalize things. What was scandalous the first time it came around, is less so over time, until we just expect it.

Why are we so complacent about Facebook? Well, for starters, we live on it. How many posts are things the poster could google, but instead, feels the need to ask the town group—when is the next trash pickup, or how do they get rid of the dead squirrel in front of their house, or… the list goes on. Facebook has become part of nearly 1.5 billion peoples’ daily lives around the world, suggesting most people have become okay (complacent) about how social media might be collecting, sharing and using our information.

And this shouldn’t be that surprising. Back in 2010 (and likely earlier) Mark Zuckerberg was clear that he felt privacy was no longer a social norm, saying, “People have gotten really comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people.”

We’ve come to expect less and less privacy, which is directly associated with the continued growth of Facebook usage—despite what happened with Cambridge Analytica.

We still care about privacy. Just not as much. Maybe if what happened with Cambridge Analytica felt individually targeted and less of a mass invasion of privacy, we’d care more. But it happened to a lot us, so what’s a user to do? Keep posting and sharing seems to be the net answer. Probably even in the EU, where strong consumer concerns about privacy has the EU setting standards for the world with GDPR.

Understanding consumers' psychology, such as Facebook users, is core to market research. What are they seeking to achieve? How do they express that in attitudes and actions? What barriers exist and what catalysts motivate them?

In addition to the normalization of information-sharing, users continue to use Facebook because of the functional, emotional, and identity benefits the brand provides. Facebook is a space where users can feel connected to other people (social identity), can find and share content that animates them (emotion) and is a convenient tool for things like selling your couch or getting recommendations for a reliable plumber (functional). Facebook has done an incredible job providing the right balance of these three benefits, which we know are key drivers of customer loyalty and advocacy.

Knowing all we know, we still use Facebook. We’ve normalized making public details about our lives we would’ve considered “private” 10 years ago—and that doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon. For most of us, the benefits Facebook provides outweigh privacy concerns.

Will you share this when I post it? Like it? Love it? (No sad faces please!)

Kate is a FB user who loves to keep up with old friends and family but rarely posts. Her research background helps keep her eyes wide open (or so she thinks), to the privacy she has given away.

Topics: big data, consumer insights, social media, consumer psychology, data privacy

Relatability, Desirability and Finding the Perfect Match

Posted by Dr. Jay Weiner

Tue, Feb 13, 2018

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Dear Dr. Jay:

It’s Valentine’s Day, how do I find the one ones that are right for me?

-Allison N.


Dear Allison,

In our pursuit of love, we’re often reminded to keep an open mind and that looks aren’t everything.

This axiom also applies to lovestruck marketers looking for the perfect customer. Often, we focus on consumer demographics, but let’s see what happens when we dig below the surface.

For example, let’s consider two men who:

  • Were born in 1948
  • Grew up in England
  • Are on their Second Marriage
  • Have 2 children
  • Are Successful in Business
  • Are Wealthy
  • Live in a Castle
  • Winter in the Alps
  • Like Dogs

On paper these men sound like they’d have very similar tastes in products and services–they are the same age, nationality, and have common interests. But when you learn who these men are, you might think differently.

The men I profiled are the Prince of Darkness, Ozzy Osbourne, and Prince Charles of Wales. While both men sport regal titles and an affinity for canines, they are very different individuals.

Now let’s consider two restaurants. Based on proprietary self-funded research, we discovered that both restaurants’ typical customers are considered Sporty, Athletic, Confident, Self-assured, Social, Outgoing, Funny, Entertaining, Relaxed, Easy-going, Fun-loving, and Joyful. Their top interests include: Entertainment (e.g., movies, TV) and dining out. Demographically their customers are predominately single, middle-aged men.

One is Buffalo Wild Wings, the other, Hooters. Both seem to appeal to the same group of consumers and would potentially be good candidates for cross-promotions—maybe even an acquisition.

What could we have done to help distinguish between them? Perhaps a more robust attitudinal battery of items or interests would have helped. 

Or, we could look through a social identity lens.

We found that in addition to assessing customer clarity, measuring relatability and desirability can help differentiate brands:

  • Relatability: How much do you have in common with the kind of person who typically uses Brand X?
  • Social Desirability: How interested would you be in making friends with the kind of person who typically uses Brand X?

When we looked at the scores on these two dimensions, we saw that Buffalo Wild Wings scores higher than Hooters:BWW vs hooters1.png

Meaning, while the typical Buffalo Wild Wings customer is demographically like a typical Hooters customer, the typical Hooters customer is less relatable and socially desirable.  This isn’t necessarily bad news for Hooters–it simply means that it has a more targeted niche appeal than Buffalo Wild Wings. 

The main point is that it helps to look beyond demographics and understand identity—who finds you relatable and desirable. As we see in the Buffalo Wild Wings and Hooters example, digging deeper into the dimensions of social identity can uncover more nuanced niches within a target audience—potentially uncovering your “perfect match”. 

Topics: Dear Dr. Jay, Identity, consumer psychology

The Anchoring Effect—Avoiding Bias in Market Research

Posted by Hannah Russell

Thu, Feb 08, 2018

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Consider the following questions:

  1. Did Thomas Edison patent more or fewer than 7,000 inventions?
  2. To the best of your ability, estimate the number of inventions patented by Edison.

Unless you retained your 7th grade social studies knowledge, you’d probably have a tough time answering. But based on the context given in question 1, you may guess somewhere in the several thousand range. Why is that?

As Nobel Prize winning author Daniel Kahneman explains, this is an example of the anchoring effect—a cognitive bias in which humans tend to rely on the first piece of information offered (the “anchor”) when making decisions. The detail (e.g. number) we automatically “anchor” to then influences subsequent decisions.

So, in the Edison example, according to the anchoring effect, the “7,000” in the first question impacted your answer to the second question.

Consider then, if instead the first question had been: “Did Thomas Edison patent more or fewer than 100 inventions?” Your answer to the second question would likely be a lot less than what it had been in the first scenario.

Our perceptions are often influenced by the stimuli we are exposed to—both consciously and subconsciously. Sometimes, though, this information is useless in helping us make correct judgements (such as the number 7,000 in the example above). Even if we’re aware of an external influence, it can be hard to discount.

As market researchers, we have an obligation to manage and mitigate this type of bias to preserve the integrity of our data.

When creating a survey, we try to avoid anchoring respondents in a particular number (or other pieces of information) and are careful in the way that we order questions. If we’re exposing respondents to various numbers (which is often the case in pricing research), we rely heavily on analytical techniques that ensure randomization and exposure to multiple scenarios.

Ultimately, we can’t avoid priming effects altogether—there is no such thing has 100% unbiased data. But, we need to keep these psychological biases in mind when designing, implementing and presenting data. By recognizing the downstream consequences of something like the anchoring effect, we’re better positioned to find truthful and actionable insights for clients.

Hannah Russell is a Project Manager at CMB who indeed retained her seventh grade social studies knowledge. Thomas Edison accumulated 2,232 patents worldwide, 1,093 of which were in the US.”

Topics: consumer insights, research design, consumer psychology