Do cute products sell better? To explore this question, researchers measured the effect of cute, playful and whimsical products on consumption and indulgence.

Test participants ate more ice cream when they served themselves ice cream with a whimsical ice cream scoop then a plain one, an alligator shaped stapler inspired more creativity than a normal one, a playfully colored gift certificate encouraged more frivolous purchases than an unadorned one, and test participants ate more cutely decorated cookies than plain ones. The results are clear: consumers love cute stuff.

Companies are acutely aware of the power of “cute”. Indeed, we are surrounded by cute products: Marc Jacobs’ kitten shoes; iPhone covers designed to look like turtles; kitchen utensils like zebra dish scrubbers and Betty Boop rubber gloves; pens, pencils and paperclips in quirky shapes and colors; Gummi Bears; the MINI Cooper; and the mother of all cuteness, Hello Kitty.

Design influences human behavior on many levels. The researchers hope their work has application beyond peddling a product:

Even though we examined the effects of playful products on indulgence in the domains of eating, shopping, and product usage, we expect that exposure to whimsical products could have similar effects on helping people focus on having fun and rewarding themselves in other important life domains like savings, debt repayment, or time management.

Fun design has been shown to influence behavior in positive ways. In fact, Volkswagen sponsored a ‘Fun Theory’ campaign in which:

…an open invitation was extended to submit ideas that made seemingly baleful social challenges — environmental protection, speed-limit adherence, boosting public transportation ridership — enjoyable.

Examples included: The Piano Stairs next to an escalator that enticed more people to climb stairs to the tune of their steps than take the escalator; The Bottle Bank Arcade which made recycling fun; and The Playbelt which prohibited drivers from accessing in-car entertainment systems until every passenger was safely buckled in.

Bottom line: be aware of the way that products and design influence behavior. Make choices that bring out the best in you.