Let’s coug it up …
The animal print phenomena is a somewhat amusing yet increasingly popular psychosocial fashion boom whereby (mostly female) members of our species adorn themselves and the objects around them with jungle animal patterns ranging from leopard, cheetah, tiger and jaguar, through to snake, zebra and even giraffe.
Animal print can be seen adoringly zipped, wrapped, draped and strapped on bodies of all shapes and ages. It graces the streets of every city and appears to be permitted in almost all cultures across our wonderful planet.
Whenever something ‘takes off’ as an idea or trend, when campaign results go through the roof, or a viral video joins the multi-million club etc, it happens because of a cluster of influences. A ‘perfect storm’, a set of (usually 2-4) mutually contributory factors that create the gestalt success of significant sales increases and/or strong marketing ROI.
To unlock and explain how/why anything is being embraced avidly by a population is not so difficult if human science feeds your strategic gravitas. At the very least you get an interesting second opinion on why things went so well.
In this article only adults are discussed, but it is expected that children will also embrace the enduring ubertrend of animal print over the coming years.
Animal print explained
It’s interesting to think of a consumer not just as one person who is, say, 30 years of age. Consider the individual as multiple people contained within the same package – you look at one person aged 30 experiencing a sentient life currently embodied, but also see another person aged 300, and one also that’s 3,000 years old, as well as being one that’s aged 30,000 years old, and another that’s 300,000 years old, and one that’s got 3 million candles on the birthday cake.
The same way that good design occurs cumulatively over time through additive iterations, so too is the case in the human. So if you take some time to read up and understand how the human has been designed, how it is currently being designed or having design changes imposed upon it, you’re bound to be ahead of most strategists.
Essentially what animal print does is obey multiple homo-sapiens instincts and passion points, let’s call it a Phylogenetic Perfect Storm that ensures its short-, mid-, and long-term popularity. For those of you who don’t know or care about Phylogenetics, don’t worry, you don’t need to in order to take something valuable from this article.
For all ye human science buffs out there, perhaps read or re-read up on recapitulation (ie the theory that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny) thence you may enjoy seeing some pennies drop in your strategic planning and/or creative ideation efforts.
Okay so what we have with animal print apparel is an attempt by the wearer to increase their level of attractiveness through subconscious and conscious manipulation of both others and themselves. We have an integrated multi-layered perfecto stormundo. I’ll explain why…
Misattribution of Arousal
Fear is, amongst other things, a form of arousal. One noteworthy research example is a famous study that was conducted (Dutton and Aaron) to show fear being ‘translated’ into sexual arousal.
The experiment had men walking across two bridges – one scary (arousing) bridge, and one normal (non-arousing) bridge – towards a young lady (experimenter) at the end who gave them a survey and her phone number to call her if they had any questions.
As expected, subjects committed the error of Misattribution of Arousal, with significantly more males calling the female after having encountered her on the scary bridge. They experienced general arousal (fear) and assigned a different cognitive label for that arousal, ie the attractiveness of the female they encountered at the time. Numerous other studies support these results defining various types of MoA.
So, in this case, the perceived attractiveness of potential mates (‘mates’ in the Discovery Channel sense, not in the blokey aussie barbecue sense) was much more sexified during the experiment due to the increase in general arousal (fear) which was translated into perceived sexual interest. The relatively scary experience of the high bridge increased the appeal of the female for the males. The mind thinks “I was aroused when I saw that person so it must be that the person is attractive.”
Whenever a human, any human, sees the pattern of a human predator, e.g. leopard spots, there is a significant amount of subconscious instinctual fear activated in the centre of the brain. Specifically, inside the amygdala. While the hippocampus is also involved (as it transmits information to and from the amygdala), recent research supports the amygdala as the primary location where fear occurs.
It’s an instantaneous piece of software stored (and triggered off faster than any conscious reaction could ever occur) in the prehistoric part of our hard-drive. It’s left over in our mind as part of the human within us that’s several hundreds of thousands of years old.
Put simply, a man’s “inner caveman” craps his pants for a split second when he sees Lady Leopard, due to a lingering age-old instinct designed to help avoid being eaten. We see animal print, we are instantly automatically subconsciously primed with a version of the classic ‘fight or flight’ response. Whether we think it’s true or not, it happens to each and every one of us.
So an instinctual fear is primed in the centre of the brain, and that subconscious fear increases arousal which is explained to the conscious mind as being attributable to the attractiveness of the object being looked at.
Can MoA work in reverse, ie from heterosexual male to female?
Not really. Animal print works best when it’s transmitted from female to male, guys don’t wear animal print to attract gals. Almost all females would end up feeling apprehensive if not downright scared by Master Leopard, as their brains would translate directly from subconscious fear to a conscious cognitive label of fear. The majority of females, at least evolutionarily, prefer not to see males in animal print, sorry lads.
Further, more than likely other males seeing Master Leopard would attribute the arousal they’re experiencing in terms of threat, thus landing Master Leopard in disregard with males as well, if not in serious trouble if we consider things like alcohol and loud or aggressive music added to the social setting.
When it comes to homosexual attraction, certainly any male wearing animal print would be at an advantage in captivating the attention of males of homosexual orientation. Though indeed it may be best to ensure there are not too many intoxicated heterosexual males around, as they are more likely to engage their ‘fight’ instinct in response to what is for them a subconsciously threatening Monseigneur Leopardet.
Mere Exposure Effect and Status Perception
Note also that the subconscious fear response causes increased looking time (an instinctual “keep an eye on that predator” response), which can in turn give rise to the mere exposure effect which we know increases perceived attractiveness, and on goes the cycle in Lady Leopard’s favour.
In the mind of most males seeing females in animal print, the ‘attack response’ is not translated literally to a conscious threat label because females don’t represent a physical threat. The centre of a male’s brain does however compel them to keep an eye on animal print, and they are likely to attribute this also as being due to increased attractiveness.
You might find this happening to you at the zoo. Let’s face it, chillaxing near the fence looking in the opposite direction of a 250kg killer that’s just a hop, skip and jump away is not easy. Give it a try, you have to force yourself to keep looking away, it’s most uncomfortable. Also, even when looking at zoo tigers you may also notice fleeting moments of slight anxiety when you lose sight of one or more of the tigers. It’s natural to prefer to know where the beast is and to be able to keep an eye on it.
Let’s also touch on one of the other humans contained within all of us… in this case the 300 year-old. Throughout the recent centuries of societal development we have hunted, killed, skinned and displayed our most feared and revered creatures in our homes as status symbols. No doubt the wealthy used to believe that predator pelts elevated the attractiveness of their abode.
The 300 year-old human inside us speaks to our mind via the social sectors of our brain, carried by culture, assisted also by archived imagery from books and media, and it says that an animal pelt is valuable, is a sign of status, and represents a trophy of great worth that is the envy of others. It’s a symbol of intelligence, achievement, and of course a marker of virile capability.
The hide of an elusive and ubiquitously feared killer is a decorative icon that has become interwoven into our collective consciousness quite strongly in recent history. It makes the owner feel like a ‘conqueror’, like they’re more valuable, and of course it makes them feel just that little bit more alive. …not to mention sassy.
Additionally, and most obviously, we have the sentient or ‘present day’ heavily conscious identity-driven reality of the 30 year-old individual, who experiences trends and feels the pressure to perform and compete for social and reproductive success via visual (projected or perceived) stature and physical displays throughout the embodied lifespan.
Of course the social drive to out-do same-sex competitors by wearing animal print also plays its role, and works in conjunction with the aforementioned hard-wired predispositions.
In fact, the arousal instincts discussed above also increase the looking time of other females when Lady Leopard’s around, which males could also pick up on and wrongly attribute as being due to the heightened attractiveness/status of Lady Leopard in the eyes of her fellow lady rivals.
So, all of the above helps propagate the purchasing behaviour of animal print, and in turn the ongoing prolific manufacture of more and more of these products, thus more affordable prices, thus the continuance viral explosion of “cougarus amygdalus” we’re seeing.
The third factor that rounds out the bulk of animal print’s ‘perfect storm’ is the way that the wearer perceives their own looks.
As we know, self image/regard is as much projected by the self as it is estimated by others. Seeing one’s self in the mirror when wearing animal print creates the same arousal effects discussed above in the wearer themselves about themselves. They feel increased self confidence due to a perceived increase in their own level of attractiveness.
Some of the more adventurous animal print exponents will wear patterns of multiple lurking hunters at the same time as they believe, quite rightly, that looking like a jungle collage is likely to guarantee increased arousal in their subjects.
No doubt there could be four or five main ‘Animal Print Personality Types’ put out there, which might make for a follow-up article at some point. It could also be helpful to create a guide showing ladies exactly which print to purchase in order to attract certain types of males. In any case, we are certainly in the midst of an unprecedented explosion of animal print, and where it stops, if ever, is anyone’s guess.
We now have more and more males also getting in on the act of wearing predator print, we have pets and piggy banks coming on in for the big win, we see it on furniture and household items, and even on phones and menial accessories. Sadly where western societies are concerned, permanent animal print tatoos are probably not far off popping up all over our beaches.
There are those types who go all out adorning themselves with numerous garments and add-ons, there are those who only adorn the feet (feet-only adornment most likely suggests the wearer has a serious partner they are committed to), we have those who only go for the underwear (grrr), and numerous other variants all of which point to certain traits and types of that particular person/consumer, and helps explain how they influence their own demographic and others, general insights as to how they purchase, why and what they purchase when and where, what kind of brands they attach to and will advocate, etc.
As for explaining zebra pattern, well consider the statement “Chase me, I’m game!” and we’ll leave it at that.
Giraffe, sorry not sure. Slenderness? Grace?
Snake? A danger/slenderness combo?
And as for this last image, sorry it’s not really relevant, just had to put this one out there as well … what the??
It’s a touch disheartening to hear people say that really big ideas are hard to come up with because “everything’s pretty much been thought already”.
However, for the most part people are quite often just running on the wrong creative juice, they’re using outdated planning and/or research methodologies, they’re relying on artificial technologies, and trying to forcefully construct brands and loyal followings, instead of allowing interaction and stories to unfold naturally and in a way that’s conducive to captivation and thus true loyalty.
More than anything else a lot of people in the industry appear to not grasp the depth of the human condition very well at all, the extent of its collective memory and its predictive capabilities manifested within the individual, the cohort, the culture, sub-culture, nation, and globe. Moreover they appear to lack the drive or time available to study it.
Every time you see animal print, remember the principles discussed here and think how you might be able apply the same or similar principles in trying to engage, influence, or actually change the behaviour of an audience for an extended period.