- "Your friend may be shy at the beginning. When she gets to know you, she will be perky and react to your voice and sounds you make."
- "There are 3 ways to interact with your friend: Give snacks. Talk to your friend. Give your friend love."
- "Give your friend love by pressing the right button. Give lots of love! You can tell she likes that!"
- "If you have two or more friends, place them together and they will make happy sounds and play with each other!"
- "If you ignore your friend, she will fall asleep."
- And so forth.
There is a cognitive bias that all humans experience, of interpreting a new stimulus as something already known.
This bias pops up in many contexts, so there are many names for it. It's called pareidolia, if the stimulus is random and the interpretation is erroneous (an example is seeing the Virgin Mary's face on a grilled-cheese sandwich). It's called apophenia if we discern a pattern in a series of apparently unrelated data (such as in the film The Number 23). In scientific contexts it's sometimes called the "observer-expectancy effect," for the tendency of a researcher to look for the anticipated result and possibly ignore or suppress unexpected data.
This is a subconscious and reflexive bias, and it operates in each of us in vastly different ways.
Take, for example, the commenters in the earlier post who immediately recognized that the Dora aquapet toy is remarkably phallic in shape, color, and proportion; as opposed to other commenters who were a little more hesitant to make the same conclusion. To further this example, the excerpted instructions above could be interpreted either in a completely innocent context or a dirty one, as could the joystick on the handheld game in the image above.
I think it's a matter of how the bias operates on an individual level (but any psych-savvy readers are welcome to correct me!).
The intriguing thing is that this bias can be manipulated. Advertisers refer to the preference we have for the familiar as the exposure effect. It's used in order to tap into our hard-coded need to categorize and compartmentalize data.
What we categorize these data as -- that's what billions of advertising dollars each year are spent to determine.
Last year, when Ford introduced a new body style for the Mustang, NPR interviewed one of the guys who developed it. He spoke of incorporating what he called "heritage cues" into the design, figuring out ways to visually echo the classic muscle car look of the early generation models into the new model.
In trademark law, these decorative features of a product's configuration can be protected as a trademark, if they can be clearly described and demonstrated to be distinctive. But often what's more important than protecting a product's configuration is giving it one that'll sell it.
So what's sneaky is when decorative features of a product resemble something completely unrelated to the product. Kind of an advertising trope.
Is it intentional? One might think so, at least in Dora's case; the manufacturer's website no longer features the original "Dora aquapet" image, perhaps in response to a recent spate of articles noting the resemblance to male genitalia.
It got me to spend some cash to buy a couple of toys I probably wouldn't have purchased otherwise, and it's getting pretty unprecedented (for an interactive toy) attention on the blogosphere. So it worked.