First, some facts to put a smile on your face…
- We’re born smiling. Even in the womb, babies smile in their asleep.
- As children we smile up to 400 times a day, and even as adults (despite the worries of keeping up with the mortgage repayments and sorting a pension!) a third of us still manage to raise a smile up to 200 times a day.
- Neuro-scientists have even discovered that 1 smile delivers the same amount of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate! (Now there’s a fact to get your teeth into).
- And did you know that apparently a smile delivers the same feel-good factor as receiving up to £16 in cash (so maybe smiles do come cheap?)
Bearing all this in mind, it therefore seems logical that if you want to help your brand communicate its own feel-good factor that simply adding a graphic smile to your logo or packaging design will provide an effective shortcut solution.
After all, a smile makes us appear to be more likeable and more competent, so why wouldn’t you?
Well, as ever, it’s a question of context. If you’re going global, then there are other considerations that are worth taking into account.
For instance, we’re all familiar with the American tradition of offering ‘service with a smile’, but in Russia, smiling at customers is considered artificial and unnecessary. And in Thailand, a smile is expected on any occasion.
A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology highlights the different ways that Americans and Japanese perceive smiles (reflected in the difference between Western emoticons and Japanese emoji).
When viewing emotions, Americans locate expression at the mouth seeing a mouth with upturned corners as happy, and a mouth with downturned corners as sad
While Japanese find it in the eyes.
This variation may reflect an American tendency to express emotions outwardly, whereas the Japanese have a tendency to suppress them; after all, the mouth can be manipulated into a smile more easily than the eyes.
A supporting study confirmed these findings observing that Japanese participants emphasise the upper half of a face when determining its trustworthiness, whereas Americans focus on the lower half.
So what does this say about the (graphic) value of a smile?
The answer is probably to apply it wisely and with cultural relevance.
There are lots of brands that feature a ‘smile’ to very positive effect making them appear accessible and friendly. However as so many brands now do this, the true value of the smile may be diluted and risk losing brand individuality and undermining the valuable perception of trust that a smile can communicate. It may also potentially limit the markets into which the brand can expand.
Remember that different cultures identify the emotion of smiling from different cues – so if you’re going global, then perhaps finding an alternative way to communicate all the positive benefits associated with a smile will be more beneficial by resonating more deeply with the target audience. Sometimes designing beyond the cliche can connect with the shopper and consumer on a subconscious level more effectively than what may at first glance appear to be the rational solution.