Steven Anderson discusses the face on the box and making the most of brand mascots …
Brand mascots popularise what may be a relatively straightforward product. Just look at Ronald McDonald, the Duracell Bunny, Tony the Tiger, the Jolly Green Giant, Michelin Man and the all-conquering Meerkats. Batteries, sweetcorn and car insurance would be a hard sell indeed without these personalities to back them up. Mascots work, both on packaging and in broader marketing, because they’re a figurehead – an easy vehicle to translate what you want people to think of the product or brand: ‘That little guy is fun, so that brand or product will be fun as well’ (or serious, if that’s the message). They can also have a lot of nostalgia behind them. With mascots like the Andrex Puppy or the Honey Monster, many will look back fondly but they can also be relevant to kids today.
Creating this kind of cross-generational link builds nostalgia in a way that creates a brand link between parents and kids. It’s an interesting thing for a brand to have; another tool in their toolbox they might not normally possess. But mascots need to be contemporary and relevant, while remaining timeless representatives of the brand. It’s a tricky balancing act, which sees some of these well-loved mascots being adjusted to meet the changing needs of the brand and consumer. What tends to happen is that you have to see what’s still relevant today. Take the Honey Monster for instance.
Back in the 1970s, he was a big clumsy figure of fun messing about. That concept of fun continues, only now it’s about making him a facilitator of good healthy fun – i.e. allowing people to have a healthier lifestyle and be more active. It’s not just about comedy value anymore. It’s also affected by changing perceptions of the brand. As it changes through time you want the character to reflect that shifting personality. You instil the character with the same personality traits you’re trying to communicate, so people then see him or her (and thus the brand) as fun, quirky, serious – whatever. Mascots can also be an excellent route into digital and social media if brands create a persona that can talk back. All good social media is about two-way conversation between the brands and audiences.
interaction Clever brands set it up so that people can talk and interact with the character itself. It’s a much warmer, easier way to interact than talking to the more ‘faceless’ brand or company. The personality put across in social media can be fun, different and perhaps even more outspoken – rather than people thinking they’re talking to the company that owns the product. But sometimes, overhauling a mascot won’t work and it’s time to pull the plug. It happens when the culture has changed so significantly that the character either becomes offensive or just isn’t engaging for the audience any more. The ‘cool teenage kid’ Fido Dido, for example, may have dropped as the mascot of 7-Up as the brand focused more on refreshment and selling to adults as well as kids. But there’s no chance mascots are going to be leaving us anytime soon. People naturally engage more openly with characters, and a mascot is still one of the best ways to create a face for an otherwise impersonal business.