Sheenagh and I watched the Star Wars-based TV show The Mandalorian recently. When we watched the first episode and got our first glimpse of Baby Yoda, there was an audible ‘aawwww’ from both of us. Baby Yoda is so damn cute.
Since then, Baby Yoda has become an internet phenomenon, and the little fella is popping up everywhere. My colleagues and I visited Melbourne’s laneways this week, and we discovered a two-metre mural of baby Yoda, and not one but two.
So, why has Baby Yoda become so popular so quickly?
One hint is in what we call the character – Baby Yoda. We have a built-in attraction to infants that has been chiselled into our psyches through hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. In particular, we share an instinct to keep babies safe from harm, yet the Mandalorian (a kind of space cowboy) keeps putting his charge in harm’s way. This keeps us on our seat’s edge.
Disney has a track record of enhancing the baby-like features of its famous characters. Take Mickey Mouse. When Mickey made his debut in the 1920s in Steamboat Willie, he had small eyes and a long rat-like nose. But, over the years of being redrawn, Mickey’s nose shrunk, flattening his face, and his eyes got bigger. He was becoming more like an infant, and more adorable.
Baby Yoda has enormous eyes, a flat infant-like face, and unmistakable, large, pointy ears. Now, I’m not sure why those big ears add to its cuteness, but they do. They have their own personality. Together with Baby Yoda’s green skin, these features tell us that this creature is either a young Yoda, a character we know from six of the nine Star Wars movies (starting when the first hit the screen in 1977), or from the same species. Baby Yoda is nostalgic because, at a glance, he reminds us of Yoda.
Did you know that there is a genre of marketing dedicated to nostalgia? Marketers have known for a long time that humans love that bittersweet longing we have for the past. And, marketing researchers have shown we are more likely to buy if we feel nostalgic. Do you remember the iconic scene from Mad Men where Don Draper is pitching to Kodak to advertise their new slide projector? Draper triggers the nostalgic feelings of family, vacations, youth, and love. Nostalgia makes you feel and then say yes.
Baby Yoda is nostalgic regardless of your age. I remember seeing the 1977 screening of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope. I was 13 and went with my Dad. We sat at the back of the cinema, and to this day, I can feel the awe I experienced as the spaceship rumbled above our heads in the opening scene. And that experience is happening for new viewers over and over for each new generation of Star Wars fans.
Yet, I’ve heard there are new watchers of The Mandalorian who have never watched Star Wars and have no interest in checking the movies out. Baby Yoda’s adorable looks and behaviours, and the stoic nature of Mando, seem to be compelling enough. Who doesn’t like a science fiction version of a cowboy movie?
One last thing we need to mention. Superpowers. We can’t get enough of them. Harry Potter would have been an annoying private school prat without magic. The Marvel movies are breaking all the box office records because of our obsession with buffed bodies in spandex and their awesome superpowers. We love God-like abilities, and we enjoy seeing them in their early stage of development so we can imagine what they might grow to become. Baby Yoda can lift ferocious beasts and repel destructive forces to protect its loved ones. And, in keeping to character, after each application of The Force, Baby Yoda collapses in exhaustion and then slumber. Yep, also adorable.
So, what can we learn from the phenomenon of Baby Yoda that we can apply to our business storytelling practice?
First, we must remember that as business storytellers, we are not in the business of crafting stories. Our job is to find stories we can retell that make a business point.
With that in mind, Baby Yoda gives us some hints on how to connect and influence at work.
 Gould, S. (2008). “A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse.” Ecotone 4: 333–340.
 Lasaleta, J. D., C. Sedikides and K. D. Vohs (2014). “Nostalgia Weakens the Desire for Money.” Journal of Consumer Research 41(3): 713-729.
About Shawn Callahan
Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:
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