Baby Yoda and the Appeal of Cuteness (Business Brilliance #17)

2 December 2019 | 13 Comments

If you haven’t watched The Mandalorian (but intend to someday) and also somehow haven’t seen anything on the internet about Baby Yoda, I’d recommend that you don’t read this article.

The Mandalorian is a live-action Disney+ show set in the Star Wars universe. It features an armored character whose face we never see…and an absolutely adorable character that looks like this (as far as we know, it’s not actually Yoda, but the world has decided to call him Baby Yoda):

While watching the most recent episode–the details of which I won’t reveal–a few things occurred to me:

  1. Baby Yoda is designed for maximum cuteness. Big eyes, tiny hands, big ears, slightly concerned expression, large head compared to body…I thought my cats, nieces, and nephews were the cutest creatures in the world, but Baby Yoda takes cuteness to a new level.
  2. My enjoyment of The Mandalorian is at least 70% due to Baby Yoda. I’m a huge Star Wars fan, and I would have watched the show regardless of Baby Yoda. But while I went into the show expecting the Boba Fett lookalike to be the most interesting character, it’s instead Baby Yoda who steals every scene.
  3. Jon Favreau knew exactly what he was doing by including Baby Yoda. The showrunner made an intentional decision to create and include Baby Yoda, and it’s at least partially due to people like me. In the gritty world of The Mandalorian, Baby Yoda is soft, vulnerable, and lovable.

There are some evolutionary theories about cuteness (i.e., why human babies are cute). The reason is that they trigger our protective instincts. Same with kittens, puppies, etc. Seeing something cute triggers the caretaking part of our brain and then releases dopamine to make us feel good about the decision.

What does this have to do with entrepreneurship? It’s all about product design. Baby Yoda is an excellent reminder to me that I have control over the cuteness levels of my products, and when yielded well, this power can result in a special level of appeal as demonstrated in The Mandalorian.

I think The Mandalorian features cuteness particularly well because of the juxtaposition between gritty and cute. Gritty by itself is fine and cute by itself is fine, but when you combine gritty and cute, there’s the potential for something special.

Can you think of other examples of overwhelming cuteness? Is there a product you were unexpectedly drawn to due to cuteness? I’m curious to hear your thoughts in the comments!


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13 Comments on “Baby Yoda and the Appeal of Cuteness (Business Brilliance #17)

  1. Jamey, in anticipation of mixing gritty with cute I’m looking forward to a Scythe mashup expansion that incorporates My Little Scythe minis as playable characters. ;)

  2. The entire line of Star Wars Galactic Heroes toys were gritty and cute. They were Star Wars figures in Super Deformed or Chibi style with big heads and and big feet and hands, about 2” tall. They had maybe one point of articulation at the weapon wrist. I bought every single one of them. I stopped collecting all Star Wars stuff to the exclusion of that line of toys and tracked down every set released. I even bought hand made customs from artists on eBay. When they stopped making them I stopped collecting Star Wars toys completely. I was done when they were done. There was no other toys that interested me after that. Weird.

  3. Back when I was doing psychology at uni (longer ago now than I care to admit) this was referred to as the ‘kewpie doll’ effect. It has to do with the fact that in humans eyes are the only bit that don’t grow over time and so they are disproportionately large in babies, since we need to have an irrational attachment to our unusually weak offspring (in terms of the animal kingdom) we then have an irrational attachment to things that share those unusual trigger features, large eyes in particular. I think it can be a risk game to play, and strays dangerously close to subliminal advertising. In early subliminal cinema it was often used for horror films, but one of the ironic results was that it made some people perceive the film as less scary. The reason being that the subliminal images were so scary that people subconsciously compared all other parts of the film to them, and found the film less scary as a result. The thing about, say, Baby Yoda is that if he’s the only cute thing nothing else will be less cute because of him (by comparison) but everything will be more ‘uncute’ (gritty) as a result. Certainly people knew what they were doing putting him in.
    The issue for tabletop games though can be that you have far less control over how characters and elements will be used by your players, putting something in that will have a detrimental effect if there’s lots of it could be risky because in one group there might be tons of it. It would be the equivalent of the Mandalorian if character screen time was decided by audience vote and it was now the Baby Yoda show. People are not always the best judge of whether more of a good thing is a good idea.

  4. Note: Not sure whether this will be double posted, but nothing happened after I posted it 10-15 minutes ago, so I’m trying again.

    I think that the contrasting juxtaposition you talk about also works for beauty and rough.

    Some of my favorite music juxtaposes soft and beautiful with rough and hard (I lack the proper musical terms) and that contrast is a major reason for why I like it. Each stand out more and I appreciate them more for what they are because they’re contrasted.

    Schlaflied by Staubkind is an example. It has a beautiful female vocal contrasted with some “hard” music. The text and title supports the contrast (“schlaflied” is German for “lullaby”):

    Another example is a “harder” version of Phantom of the Opera by Nightwish, which in my opinion is better than the original because the contrast between the two parts of the song is amplified (that’s of course subjective):

  5. Hey Jamie, I think that your observation is partial. I think it applies to people that is naturally inclined to cuteness. This seems to be particularly true for the American sentimentalism (no offense intended). But there are many people that do not share this perception. I can recall, for example, the many people that found Root childish an did not buy for that reason. I find the so called baby yoda cute, indeed, but it will not call my interest for a series, or keep me watching it.

  6. You’ve got to be careful with cuteness though, while it works, it can turn people off if over done or done in an obnoxious way. If not done right it can really backfire. I’ve seen threads of people who absolutely hate the cuteness of baby Yoda, and other cute things in his style, many of them just don’t work. Granted those people who don’t like baby Yoda and Gizmo are definitely not the norm. Mr. Favreau really figured it out for baby Yoda though. He’s done it just right, without going over the top in an annoying and gratuitous way, and that’s why it really works well in the Mandalorian. There is just the one baby Yoda contrasted with everything that is Star Wars. There is enough for him to really stand out and nothing to compete for all that dopamine. He really draws you in and he feels real, partly because they used a real puppet and he’s not CGI, but their puppeteers really have the pulse of him.

    It’s also not just human babies, puppies, and kittens that have this feature in nature. A great majority of animal’s babies have these cuteness traits and they all evoke the same response in people. It really is an evolutionary trait. I can’t wait for next week’s baby Yoda fix.

  7. You can look at the relatively recent success of the Santorini boardgame as a close-to-home example of the power of cuteness. The chibi-style art took it from an unappreciated abstract game to mass-marketed at Target and Walmart, etc.

  8. Overwhelming cuteness examples: Ewoks, Porgs, Mogwaii (Gremlins), Stitch (Lilo and Stitch), Hello Kitty, Mickey Mouse, Toothless (How to Train a Dragon), Powerpuff Girls, Tweety Bird, Winnie the Pooh, Hamtaro, BB8, R2D2, Wall-E… to name a few. All feature big heads, big eyes, tiny bodies, baby-like motions and make baby-like noises (or at least have squeaky voices). It’s very easy to manufacture something cute, but like everything, it is hard to make it stick. For each one of these successes there are dozens of “forced cute” characters than just end up nauseating.

  9. Staying within the movie genre, it kinda reminds me of Gremlins. The one really cute guy surrounded by all the “evil” gremlins. Made Gizmo even more cute and vulnerable

    1. If you look at a picture of Baby Yoda and Gizmo side by side, they are almost identical in their general designs. Just details separates them. I only know this as there is a same mother different father meme going around with them in it.

  10. Haven’t seen it, but this sounds like Lone Wolf and Cub manga. Grim dude, cute baby. Most shonen manga and anime include a cute mascot for the same cuteness and toy creating opportunities.

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