Cute is Serious; Just Ask the Wall Street Journal

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Gotcha!!!! You saw that cute picture of a puppy and just had to see what it was all about. It was not me but the cuteness of that little dog that grabbed you. And that, my friends, is the power of cute.

As sweet as cute animals and babies are, cuteness is apparently pretty serious stuff. How serious is cuteness? Well, consider this: A new book on the subject was recently published by Princeton University Press, written by a philosophy professor at Kings College in London, and reviewed in the Wall Street Journal. Now, that is serious.

And here I am writing about it as well. I have to admit that I have always liked cute. In fact, I once mused about a Cutability Quotient (CQ) that would quantify the degree of cuteness. That, like my idea for measuring fluffiness with a Fluffometer, never got very far.

So, what is it about cute that fascinates us and why does it appear that we humans are progressively becoming more in love with the concept? And what about the toy industry, doesn't it seem like toys have gotten cuter over the last couple of decades, more adorable faces, more tiny dolls and figures?

The book I referenced above is The Power of Cute by Professor Simon May. Here is how the book's website describes the question Mr. May is confronting: "What does “cute” mean, as a sensibility and style? Why is it so pervasive? Is it all infantile fluff, or is there something more uncanny and even menacing going on—in a lighthearted way?" It seems like, at least according to Professor May, cute is kind of heavy.

The Wall Street Journal certainly thought the subject was worthy as it ran a review of the book in its May 3rd issue, "‘The Power of Cute’ Review: Danger: Totally Adorbs". The article points us to "the best definition of cuteness unearthed by Mr. May." It comes from is from an eleventh-century book by a Japanese poet who wrote: “All small things are most adorable."

And that is certainly true in the toy industry. Think about how popular miniature toys are and in particular brands like Polly Pocket, Shopkins, Squishies, and the Littlest Pet Shop.

Of course, its not just miniatures that are cute.  Combine a round face, add some big and or sad eyes (both work), an innocent expression, and then throw in soft fur or fuzzy hair and you have just created ultimate cuteness. The Internet is filled with adorable images of babies, kittens, bunnies, puppies, and even squirrels and ducks. And, of course, that is why plush toys have been depicting cute animals since Teddy Roosevelt and the original Teddy Bear. 

So, what are we who work in the business of play to make of the notion of "cute" as a subject for serious thinking? Perhaps its that cute has global appeal and in a diverse world that sports a global economy, it may represent a truly global aesthetic that appeals to parents and children.

Cute is certainly not the only element that drives the popularity of toys but it is maybe one that we need to think a little harder about just like Mr. May, Princeton University, London College and The Wall Street Journal.

Think cute!

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