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Behavioral Science

The Consumer Psychology Behind Baby Yoda

Posted On  December 17, 2019

I, along with the rest of the internet, am in love with Baby Yoda.

If you’ve somehow missed out on this phenomenon, “Baby Yoda” (actually named The Child, but the internet wasn’t having that) is the breakout star in Disney+’s new live-action Star Wars series The Mandalorian. To be clear, Baby Yoda isn’t actually Yoda, or even that much of a baby. He’s a 50-year old toddler, from the same species as Yoda. The Mandalorian boasts an impressive cast but it’s Baby Yoda that’s taken the world by storm and gained fans – not to mention Disney+ subscribers – across an impressive range of demographics.

But why was Baby Yoda such an overnight success?

In part, Baby Yoda was a complete surprise to audiences, as The Mandalorian used limited promotional materials to focus on the show’s star Mando rather than the little green guy. This decision also meant that merchandising was delayed to keep his identity a secret, a decision that has irked some fans who are desperate for more Baby Yoda in their lives.

Why People Love Baby Yoda

But there’s a bigger reason why Baby Yoda has such broad popularity. In addition to pulling on our heartstrings, he’s tapping into our biological drive to love and care for babies of all kinds.Humans love to look at faces and have developed biological biases toward looking at, learning, and remembering faces. We even see faces in things that don’t have faces.

Baby faces, in particular, are a special kind of face. Known as Baby Schema, humans preferentially look at faces with big eyes, small mouths and high foreheads, all things Baby Yoda has in spades. Our preference for these faces isn’t limited to humans; it’s part of why we love baby animals, even those well outside our universe. By being drawn to those baby faces, it helps ensure that the most vulnerable of our species are cared for until they are more self-sufficient.

Disney is no stranger to the Baby Schema. Many of our favorite Disney characters sport the classic look, from Mickey Mouse to both Beauty AND the Beast. By using cute characters, Disney and many, many other entertainment brands access a biological shortcut into our memories and our hearts.

Baby Yoda also has another thing going for him: familiarity. After all, Baby Yoda is a smaller, cuter version of one of the most beloved members of the Star Wars franchise. Regardless of whether you first saw Yoda training Luke Skywalker in the swamps or fighting Sith in the prequels, previous exposure to Yoda will make Baby Yoda more attractive, since our brains find comfort with things that are familiar as opposed to things that are brand new. This phenomenon is known as the Exposure Effect.

What Brands Can Learn from Baby Yoda

The important message for brands isn’t that they should all adopt a cute new mascot.  It’s more important for them to understand the psychological and biological predispositions and biases at play. From this perspective, the introduction of a cute new Star Wars character isn’t all that different from a new smiling car design or the gamification of a loyalty program. Successful brands capitalize on our brains’ natural tendencies to create efficiencies across the massive amount of information we deal with on a moment-to-moment basis. A slight nudge to see a car as friendly or to make your morning coffee purchase a bigger treat means that your brain doesn’t have to work all that hard, and you might even feel better. It’s a “win-win” that will make you more likely to return to the brand in the future.

The best way to explore and act upon these sorts of psychological insights is to augment traditional research with less-conscious measures to gain a deep understanding of consumer behavior. For Disney, it was especially important to look beyond traditional metrics such as Disney+ subscription intent to explore nonconscious perceptions of the Star Wars brand and its character associations. Without taking this step, it may have missed consumers (like myself) who got swept up by the magnetic cuteness of Baby Yoda and who are happily waiting to see what doe-eyed creation charms us next.

Learn how LRW helps brands win by exploring nonconscious consumer behaviors.


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