Mameshiba are not your ordinary advertising campaign. When Dentsu advertising agency unleashed this level of cuteness upon the world, we were not prepared. Without having anything to sell, they instead focused on having the bean dogs (Mame means bean, and Shiba means dog) mention random tidbits of trivia. They’d pop out of whatever you were eating and dispense such pearls of wisdom as:
“An ostrich’s brain is smaller than its eye, so it quickly forgets what it just learned” – Lentil Bean.
Besides giving out this sort of information, each bean dog has their own specific personality. Some are smarter, more willing to travel than others, whether it be by shell or pod. A few dabble in poetry and learning new things. Each one (or collective group in some cases) has their own mini-feature on their own website:
According to Atsushi Higashiyama, their success is an unexpected surprise. They are everywhere in Japan. On the internet people have made their own tribute videos to the successful bean dogs. While the penetration into the American market has been somewhat limited (they showed up at the San Diego Comic Con, to give you an idea of the audience) they do have a certain universal appeal, even if their cartoons are still in Japanese. The subtitles help, and a few times they have put the cartoons fully into English, such as the case for the Jelly Beans.
What I wonder about as I see them is the science of cuteness. What makes us react almost uniformly to certain cues? Even Dentsu the creators stated they were shocked by the surprise, yet were confident enough in their creation to allow them to exist as characters first before selling any product. That’s considerably different from most advertising campaigns, where we bond with the character after knowing the product, like the Flo girl (from the Progressive commercials, another form of cuteness).
The New York Times had an article about the science of cute in 2005 (Article). According to the Times article, the cues of cute display extreme youth, vulnerability, harmlessness and need. Somehow we are wired to take care of the most pathetic and lowly. Originally this wiring was due to taking care of offspring, but the wiring is so strong that anything resembling extreme youth, whether panda bears, kittens, etc. can trigger this reaction.
Dentsu incorporated these images of vulnerability by using the beans. The beans come out food, out of soups, and are about to be eaten. You worry whether or not they are about to be eaten, and their tenuous situation after dispensing their information. Usually the recipients of said information are taken aback, as shown by black lines and drop-out of color.
Corporations increasing rely on this imagery to soften things up. Artists use it too, to get a more gut response to their work. A few artists I know explore the science of cuteness with very specific cute materials, such as knit teddy bears placed into various playful poses or hand puppets. Both of these examples use materials we’d recognize from our youth to form a greater bond with the art than would otherwise be the case.
I’d strongly suggest to anyone to see these absolutely adorable clips. Each one shows off a certain flair for short story-telling.