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Tech Companies’ Secret Weapon: Animal Logos

The booming tech industry may be sexy, but companies with little-known brands can still find it difficult connecting with people. Some, though, have discovered what single people have long known: walking a dog can get you a date.

Animals add warmth and charisma to what otherwise might be an inscrutable product. There is Hortonworks’ elephant, for example. (Horton is the elephant in the famous Dr. Seuss series of books.) Then there is Secret’s fox — or Mozilla’s fox, if you prefer. And Hipmunk’s chipmunk, plus TaskRabbit’s … well … rabbit.

“The perception of many tech businesses is that they’re just ones and zeros,” says Dean Crutchfield, an independent branding consultant. “Done right, a little fluffy puppy is hard to ignore.”

Using animals to show a company’s human side is big in many parts of the world. Japan’s Softbank uses Otosan, a dog based on a real-life canine. In China, the most iconic corporate dolls are Xiaomi’s Mi Bunny and Tencent’s penguin.

Animal identities can provide cultural significance in Asia, Crutchfield says. The Chinese zodiac, for example, helps popularize animals such as tigers, dragons and sheep. But Crutchfield warns against sending the wrong message to different cultures — a tortoise in parts of Asia may signify long life, but in the U.S. just means slow.

Tech companies could use people to represent human traits (think: Betty Crocker) but animals are better at magnifying specific traits like knowledge, speed and loyalty, says Suzie Ivelich, a managing director at the branding firm Landor Associates.

Many companies turn the logos into stuffed animals, and they could become hugely popular side businesses of their own. If a stuffed animals becomes a hit with children, that can go a long way toward influencing clients. Having an impact on executives in their homes makes it “less about doing business with you, and more about your personality,” Crutchfield says. And that “fosters future business success.”

Kris Schantz left his tech job 12 years ago to launch Happy Worker, a Toronto-based manufacturer of custom toys for companies, along with his partner and now wife Shirley Yee. He has counted numerous tech companies among his clients, including Yahoo, Sony, VMware and Blizzard Entertainment.

“Some people get excited by pens. And some people get excited by T-shirts,” he says. “But toys you respond to on a much deeper level.”