Significance of mascots over the years
Perhaps no brand mascot is as iconic and prominent as Bibendum aka the Michelin Man, a stack of white tires put together to look like a man. Brought to life in 1898, Michelin Man was the result of a rejected illustration created by French cartoonist Marius Rossillon in 1894 and later modified on the suggestion of André Michelin, one of the cofounders of the French tire company, to represent their brand identity.
While the Michelin Man may not be the oldest mascot ever, it definitely is one of the most memorable yet. Over the years numerous brands took to creating mascots to be unique and build a more personal rapport with their customers. Here’s a brief history of some of the most evocative mascots introduced since 1877.
Mascot branding has been practiced for over a century and continues to be followed to this day. Makes you think it must be a pretty effective technique if it’s being used for that long. And even though only 4% of ads have been observed to use mascots in the US since 2018, it has also come to light that ad campaigns that use mascots are 37% better positioned for greater market share than those that don’t.
Brand mascot vs brand logo
So, what are mascots in the world of brands and branding really? Simply put, a mascot is a figure that is conceptually created to represent a business group. This figure can be some person/s, animals, objects and symbols or even some animated object, as long as the mascot is believed to make the brand more engaging for the customers.
If created and pitched smartly, brand mascots can strike the right chord with the target audience and leave a lasting impression in their hearts and minds. M&M’s Spokescandies, Tony the Tiger and the Pillsbury Doughboy come to mind when we think of the most lovable mascots of all times. Each of these mascots made a huge impact with children, courtesy the fun way in which they presented the products.
At this point, I’d like to make it clear that mascots are not to be confused with logos, although it’s really a thin line that separates them from being regarded as the same. Technically, a logo is the identity of a brand that is represented by a graphical symbol or a stylized form of the brand name itself. Mascot, on the other hand, is a communication link between a brand and its audience initiated to offer a glimpse into the company’s culture and value. It is also conceptualized to bring luck for the brand.
Comparatively speaking in terms of advantage, mascots have a clear lead over logos simply because of their marketability. While a logo serves merely as a brand identity, rendering it to be a static element, mascot takes on a more dynamic form since it can be used as a powerful prop for ad campaigns that can connect to the audience almost instantaneously.
Benefits of mascot in branding
Other than being a one-off investment that happen to be a much better option than spending small fortunes on celebrity endorsements, brand mascots are also ageless and much more memorable. And there’s a very good reason behind it. They evoke emotional response from the audience easier than anything else can.
It has been observed especially in the food industry that the use of brand mascots find great opportunities for responsible food marketing to children. To further elucidate this point, children have been found to warm up particularly to mascots and media characters, which opened up the avenue to market healthy food to them owing to that emotional connection.
People relate to characters that they believe they share certain similarities with or who they understand better. To that end, they go a step further and literally bring a mascot to life in their minds by humanizing it. Of course, all the while they would most likely see the mascots in a light that would display human behavior in them. Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger is a classic example of this phenomenon.
With that in focus, let’s move ahead to take a look at the benefits that one can receive from using brand mascots in branding.
1. It helps you build a unique brand
There are just too many brands and products in every category in the market today. So much so, that even when you have a brand that possesses all the attributes to stand out in the crowd, it becomes a huge challenge to achieve that target. With every brand vying for the top spot, most of them succumb to the folly of practicing aggressive marketing using the same technique of boastful claims and promises.
In a sea of programmed voices, you can be heard without raising yours by creating a mascot through which you can connect to your target audience. It can be, in fact, the perfect way to assign a personality to your brand, one that speaks of your business values and work culture to which the audience will be effortlessly drawn. Once you have built a connection with your audience, it just gets easier to grab a greater market share from thereon.
2. It makes it possible to keep the audience engaged
If you manage to create a brand mascot that your audience finds endearing, you can be sure that it has initiated a connection with them. Once that has been achieved, keeping the audience engaged to your mascot becomes quite easy provided you maintain that connection.
One way of doing that is running ad campaigns or social events wherein your mascot can communicate with the target audience as your ambassador to increase the influence. Animated characters, life-size blow-up dolls and humans in mascot costumes have enjoyed great success with brand patrons in the past due to the personable approach that they bring forth.
3. It makes your brand story heard
One of the ways in which you can give a more humane character to your brand is by participating in fundraising and charitable events. Not only will you be able to share your brand story more effectively, you can also take the opportunity to connect with people at a deeper and more emotional level by promoting the cause.
Besides turning it into a fun affair, this can be a huge opportunity for you to be heard through various social platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, something that sports mascots have been capitalizing on for a long time. Click here to find out how you can promote your business at fundraising events.
4. It helps you gain quick reputation
Having a brand mascot can be one of the quickest ways to grab attention and achieve a loyal fan following. Having a really unique and relatable mascot is like presenting a face for your brand that will be easily distinguishable, thanks to product packages, flyers, ad campaigns, etc. that would carry it.
As your mascot becomes more well-known, owing to its frequent appearances and a personable character, the connection with the audience starts falling in place pretty soon making way for a healthy reputation in the market.
5. It’ll keep you safe from trouble and controversies
May not be to the tune of 100%, but having a brand mascot can be the best way to stay far from trouble and controversies. With the adorable nature of mascots as is usually seen, they are looked at as characters that are incapable of getting into trouble, much unlike celebrities who are frequently marred in controversies.
To top it off, you’ll invest in a mascot only once, while you’d probably engage celebrities or popular personalities more than once to promote your brand, thus incurring recurring expenditures. Moreover, with the ageless nature of brand mascots, consumers share fond memories of them growing up with the mascots as kids.
What kind of companies usually use mascot?
The short answer is - the patronage of brand mascots is not restricted to any particular kind of company. However, if we look at the statistics from the time mascots were first used, food and beverage companies have been seen to use them the most.
From Tony the Tiger to Cap’n Crunch, some of the most successful food and beverage companies have used mascots to arm themselves with a stronger branding effort. Here’s a look at 15 of the most popular mascots for food companies.
In recent years,however, food branding using mascots has become kind of a dwindling practice. So much so that some of the well-known mascots from yesteryears have been retired or gotten rid of, almost too quietly.
One of the reasons behind this development is the sensitiveness (or over-sensitiveness) of the audience that has been known to be pricked from time to time by things that they deem offensive. Click here to read more about food mascots that were phased out and the reasons behind their disappearance.
Does my brand / company need a mascot?
I’m guessing some of you will already be toying with the apprehension of using a mascot for your brand after reading the previous paragraph. Take heart though, because it’s not as bad as it sounds like. Brand mascots are anything but a dying breed.
When you think about it, the risk of hurting some community’s sentiments or offending some religion will always be there no matter whether you use a mascot or not. Not just in the business world, but the entertainment industry has also seen a wave of public intolerance to things that apparently hurt their feelings, leading to a “cancel culture,” a hashtag favorite for online trolls.
Setting aside the feelings of people (“snowflakes” in urban slang) that get hurt easily, cancel culture is a practice that’s deeply toxic for mental health.
How to choose the right mascot/character for my brand?
M&M’s had characters that looked just like the candies that they were selling. Pillsbury had a pudgy, soft looking character to represent the dough they make. Felix had a fiesty and mischievous looking cat as its mascot.
As we’ve said earlier, mascots can be anything from a human figure (mostly anthropomorphic) to an animal or even an animated character. Needless to say, the trick to choosing the right kind of mascot for your brand really depends on your product or service.
Whatever you do, take care that your choice of a character doesn’t spill over into the weird left you be haunted for it for a long time. The Burger King mascot popular throughout the 60s and 70s, which came to be seen as immensely creepy only recently, comes to mind.
Even the much adorable and easily recognizable McDonald’s mascot aka Ronald McDonald clown has suddenly become nothing short of a terrifying figure and for a “good” reason. But I’m sure you won’t be creating anything of that kind (lol). Here’s a good read on how to choose the right kind of character for your brand.
What are some of the most famous brand mascots?
One of the best ways of getting inspired to create your very own brand mascot is to take a cue from the most iconic mascots to have ever graced the world of branding, advertising and marketing. Of course, it goes without saying that you may be familiar with most of them, nonetheless I’d like to share a brief history of each of them with the goal of kickstarting your own creative machinery.
- Pillsbury Doughboy: The Pillsbury Doughboy made its very first commercial appearance on television in November 1965, popping out of a can of dough with the historic words “I’m poppin' fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy.” Conceptualized by copywriter Rudy Perz in March that same year, the Pillsbury Doughboy had a mushy body in white with a chef’s hat on his head to complete the adorable look that took the world by storm.
Three years into its introduction, the Doughboy became a prominent figure in the minds of the consumers, to the extent of receiving 200 letters from fans every week. This prompted the company to give a 7-inch vinyl doll of the Doughboy in 1972, which became an instant rage and one of the quickest selling dolls in the US.
Fast-forward into the 21st century and the popularity of the Pillsbury Doughboy still remains strong, even gracing Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Parade in New York intermittently from 2005. A simple mascot meant to represent the freshness and quality of dough takes over the advertising industry, raking in millions of followers and dollars. If that’s not inspiration enough, I don’t know what is.
- Kool-Aid Man: A giant and (sometimes uncomfortably) cheerful anthropomorphic pitcher filled with the liquid goodness that is cherry Kool-Aid, the company mascot known to the whole world as the Kool-Aid Man was originally born as the Pitcher Man in 1954, just a pitcher with a smile. In 1974, arms and legs were added to make way for Kool-Aid Man’s official debut in the world of advertising.
So popular the mascot became that even the tragic suicides of over 900 Americans from drinking poison (it looked like Kool-Aid) in the sleepy town of Jonestown, Guyana, just weeks before Kool-Aid began advertising in Venezuela, couldn’t deter the sales of the drink.
Kool-Aid Man soon went on to attain pop culture status when it was roped in to be part of two video games, one for Atari 2600 and the other for Intellivision, and became the protagonist in the Adventures of Kool-Aid Man, a 9-issue comic book series brought to life by Marvel Comics and Archie Comics. In my kidulthood as a devourer of comic books, I remember flipping through some of these issues myself. Do you realize how big it was during its time?
- Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger: Traversing a journey of over six decades and countless commercial appearances is the much adored mascot that the world knows as Tony the Tiger. Introduced in 1952 as the mascot for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, Tony is a red neckerchief wearing tiger that was created to urge people to dig in to the company’s breakfast cereal.
Did you know that the iconic catchphrase “they’re gr-r-reat” was actually a part of a print ad on Life Magazine from 1955, featuring Tony and “You Bet Your Life” host Groucho Marx. And the voice that immortalized that catchphrase was American actor and owner of a resounding bass-voice Thurl Ravenscroft, who kept it roaring for five decades.
The Kellogg’s cereals ad campaign from 1958 with the catchphrase “Put a Tiger on Your Team” became a great hit and spurred future promotional activities to support the marketing efforts of other products. Tony the Tiger was also given his own family in the form of a son called Tony Jr. and a daughter named Antoinette, which was seen by everyone as a uniquely humanizing move.
- Mr. Peanut: A top hat and monocle wearing and walking cane carrying yellow anthropomorphic peanut with arms and legs. It can’t get any weirder than that, but if history has shown us anything, it is that weird is both fun and successful.
And so is the case with Mr. Peanut, who was brought to life in 1916 by a schoolboy named Antonio Gentile as an entry to a drawing contest. Gentile won the contest and cane, monocle and top hat were added to complete the mascot for Planters Peanut Company.
What’s more, Mr. Peanut, who died recently at the “ripe” age of 104 and laid to rest on a grave that was watered by none other than Kool-Aid Man, has miraculously sprouted back to life as Peanut Junior, who further matured into a 50-year old British gentle-nut named Bartholomew Richard Fitzgerald-Smythe.
With a storyline like that, do you need any proof that mascots are more than just mere advertising gimmick? In fact, it’s the scripting of such storylines that amplify the success of these mascots.
What are some good mascot design firms?
One of the great joys of growing up in the early and mid 20th century is being able to be a part of these mascots' journeys. Not much can be said about this era, which is gradually witnessing a dwindling use of mascots.
With getting brand mascots turning into somewhat of a delicate ground to step on in modern times, the art of mascot design has also become a less practiced one. The challenge in finding good mascot designers and design firms that can be the answer to your needs is therefore all too real. Here’s a list of some proven and skilled mascot designers that we believe could come to your rescue if you’ve decided to get one.
Giving your brand the spotlight and followers it deserves is both a delicate and brain teasing activity. A long history of successful brand mascots has proved that using these brand ambassadors truly propels company recognition factor and helps in gaining greater market shares.
Our branding experts at 0707 Inc have been working with businesses in multiple categories for over a decade, offering them our design expertise and marketing wisdom, the perfect combination for business growth. Talk to our experts today to find the right solutions to your business needs.