Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Fun: It's just a lamp

I watched this IKEA commercial in my intro social psych class, and five plus years later, it is still seared into my memory. Take the minute to turn on your volume and watch this commercial, and then after the jump I'll tell you how Spike Jonze used social psychology to render me near tears.

Did you feel bad for the lamp? I know I did. It was just sitting there in the rain looking so sad. But, as the guy points out - its just a lamp, it doesn't have feelings!

This commercial was playing right into our tendency to personify inanimate objects. Emotions are such an important part of the human experience that we even project them onto non-living things, such as that sad little red lamp. And Spike Jonze knew what he was doing by having the lamp imitate a young child (big head) showing nonverbal displays of sadness and shame (bent over, head down), since research shows that personifying inanimate objects in advertising leads to more positive emotions and greater liking for the brand (Delbraere, et al., 2011).

Another basic human need is the need to belong. Seeing that red lamp rejected and left out in the cold while the newer, brighter lamp gets to stay in the warm indoors strikes a chord in all of us (or at least it does for me!).

And its not just lamps and advertising - as a child I treated my stuffed animals as beloved members of the family, and I know a few people (ahem, Anna, ahem) who have named their cars and see them a having a distinct personality.

Did you feel bad for that little red lamp? Did you have toys as a kid that you treated like part of the family? Does your car have a name, gender and a personality?

The article:
Delbaere, M., McQuarrie, E., & Phillips, B. (2011). Personification in Advertising Journal of Advertising, 40 (1), 121-130 DOI: 10.2753/JOA0091-3367400108


  1. Wonderful video. It appeals to that part of us that enjoys reveling in melancholy--even after the punch line, even after reading your discussion, watching it still evokes that same sweet sadness. It's like our mind says, "Yes, yes, I know that I'm tricking myself into it, but I still am determined to feel that way."

  2. But doesn't it seem counterproductive for a commercial? What's going to stay in your head, the rational final message or imagery for the emotional connection that will keep you from throwing an old object out and buying that new one?

  3. Anonymous - I feel the same way. No matter how many times I watch it, it evokes the same bittersweet emotions. I'm sure that part of that is the song they are playing... it likely would have less of an impact watched on silent. Perhaps we need a post on how music influences mood?

    That's a great point darbyunlimited... I wonder if it was a successful ad campaign. My guess is that people just took away a positive association with IKEA and even though we felt bad for the lamp when we watched the video, it's the good feelings towards IKEA and not the guilt over the red lamp that stay with us when we find ourselves once again in a shopping mood.

    Thanks for reading!