Physique Part 1: I Like Your Body: The Grip of Physique
First, the news. When Tech Mahindra, Indian conglomerate Mahindra’s engineering and technology arm, bought a controlling stake in the Italian auto design company Pininfarina it was, said chairman Anand Mahindra, meant to address “the increasing design sensibilities of today’s consumers,” for whom “product design will greatly influence customer choice”. Pininfarina already works with Mahindra on SUV design, and on a concept electric car.
I couldn’t help visualising, in a sort of genetic thought experiment, a car born of this auto-mating. Mahindra evokes decidedly boxy, muscular SUVs, tractors and trucks; Pininfarina evokes the slinky, feline lines of Ferrari, for whom it has a long history of designing cars. A very odd couple. Thankfully, as with the Beauty and the Beast, no such offspring is planned (a son called Ferrindra? A daughter called Maharri?) and Pininfarina may stick to helping Mahindra make better SUVs, and indeed, reports suggest that the alliance is about more than cars. Deep strategic stuff. What’s the point here? First, you can’t help ‘seeing’ a brand in this way, and that seeing has great consequences.
Brands don’t easily escape the imprint that the physical form of their products, as a sensory perception, leaves on the mind.
Brands don’t easily escape the imprint that the physical form of their products, as a sensory perception, leaves on the mind. It is automatic, instinctive and you are powerless to resist, and it acts before formal or rational thinking can interfere. It can be stronger than logos or names, and unlike those, doesn’t require understanding or interpretation.
Mahindra makes SUVs we like. Step back in time and you can see India’s original SUV, to stretch the definition a little, in the body of… the Mahindra Jeep. Go a little further back, and recall Mahindra’s origins in rolled steel, and all sorts of heavy metal bashing. That imagery is not so far from the Jeep (nowadays simply called a Mahindra) which looks as close to a purely engineer-rigged chassis-on-wheels that you can imagine. It’s a war-time design after all (from the original Willy’s Jeep). It’s a short step from there to the pugnacious Scorpio and XUV.
Meet Physique, the Hunk From Branding
I like the word physique (it is used in a related, but not identical way by the excellent Jean Noel Kapferer). Mahindra’s physique, in my sensorium, is metallic, tough, boxy, heavy, and on the large side. The idea is that once a brand’s physique is imprinted in your brain, you resist new products that don’t fit the mould, and accept those that do. So maybe physique sealed the fate of Mahindra’s sedate sedan Logan, whatever its other qualities; and perhaps it conversely conferred success to its SUVs?
The First Word
Physique may have something to do with what psychologists call the ‘primacy effect’, where we pay more attention to evidence that has registered first.
Physique may have something to do with what psychologists call the ‘primacy effect’, where we pay more attention to evidence that has registered first. First impressions, as they say. Read this pair of sentences: A is intelligent, honest, charming and lazy. B is lazy, charming, honest and intelligent. In experiments, subjects like A better than B. Didn’t you?
Design is Physique
Much of the interface between design and branding involves physique; it’s often what product designers make. For communicators, personality can be seen as a reflection of physique (consider the Mahindra logo as a match for its physique).
Or below, for a mining and ferro alloys company.
The business of packaging, in categories like perfume, is all about imparting physique. In the next post I explore this idea further and speculate on a few more examples. What about you? How and how much do you think it matters?