Flying in the face of conventional wisdom that says logos should be highly relevant to their product, this phenomenon is now the subject of a serious research paper: "Of Frog Wines and Frowning Watches: Semantic Priming, Perceptual Fluency, and Brand Evaluation," which appears in the April issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.
"To our knowledge, this is the first experimental demonstration of the beneficial effects of unique visual identifiers that are not meaningfully related to the nature of the product," write the authors, Aparna A. Labroo at the University of Chicago, Ravi Dhar at Yale University, and Norbert Schwarz at the University of Michigan.
"Whereas common branding wisdom suggests that identifiers should be strongly associated with the product category, our findings suggest that it may be beneficial to choose visual identifiers that consumers strongly associate with themselves."
This is an idea from psychology called "processing fluency": Consumers can understand and absorb images more quickly when they have been "primed," or if they have already encountered or contemplated the picture in another context or in their personal lives.
For one of the experiments in the study, participants first had to complete a word jumble, finding words related to either dogs or cats. They were then asked to rate a series of products, from batteries to dog shampoo. Those who had done the puzzle relating to canines rated the dog shampoo higher, on average, than those who had done the cat jumble.
And there's one other advantage to slapping a cuddly bear on your bottle of merlot: The researchers say non sequitur logos are less likely to be shared or stolen by competitors, whose images of old-fashioned wineries or bunches of grapes have a more literal connection to the product.