Ever notice how many of the world’s most recognizable brands have a mascot? You know, figures like the yellow raincoat-clad Morton Salt girl and Mr. Clean, in his pristine, white T-shirt? Or non-human varieties, like the talking M&Ms, the Aflac duck, or – another critter and one of the world’s most recognizable mascots – Mickey Mouse.
This year, that mouse who started it all, to paraphrase Walt Disney, turns 90. And he’s one of history’s most lovable and hardest working mascots. Disney has long topped lists of the world’s most powerful brands, and, once upon a time, not too long ago (10 years or so), reports showed that the friendly rodent had an astounding 98 percent recognition rate among children ages three to 11.
That’s what a furry little creature can do. But you don’t have to be as big as Disney to make a brand mascot work for you. And these days, with content marketing, social media, and video, companies can get more leverage out of a character than ever before, engaging audiences, building brand loyalty, driving retention, and helping to clarify complex ideas – which is particularly useful for B2B companies.
Check out how some of today’s top brands employ a cast of people, animals, and fantastical beings to help build audience awareness, distinguish themselves in their industries, and tell their brand stories in a myriad of ways across marketing channels.
Visual Content + Blogging
We all know how important high-quality, attention-grabbing visuals are to today’s marketing mix. Investing in graphic design and first-class photography is a no-brainer. But original art? Only the most forward-thinking companies are taking the lead. And it’s paying off.
We’ve seen amazing branded art and animation that drives distinction and awareness. But when it comes to incorporating an original character, BuzzSumo takes the cake. The company, which was recently acquired by Brandwatch for an undisclosed amount, publishes each and every blog post with a brand new, never-before-seen illustration that sees its mascot – an affable sumo wrestler – taking on a variety of roles relevant to the article at hand. Kate Chesterton’s weekly accompanying doodles have become part of BuzzSumo’s brand identity – and Director Steve Rayson believes they’re well worth the £200 the company invests per image.
Keep in mind: Know your audience and its cultural sensitivities. The BuzzSumo mascot has received a few complaints about the character (all four from Americans), but Rayson points out that the idea for him came from co-founder Henley Wing, who is Asian-American. “He came up with the sumo wrestler concept, and though we’ve had a few comments with regard to cultural sensitivity and appropriation, they’ve never come from our Asian audience. If we were just white English people, then that might be different.” At the end of the day, a sumo wrestler is a respected athlete, and the illustrations don’t degrade the character. Nevertheless, you must consider these issues when developing a mascot for your brand.
While sharing original illustrations and images of your character on social and beyond is a no-brainer, having that character come to life is another story. Some of today’s most recognizable companies have taken their brand mascots and given them a voice and personality, setting them up on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to entertain, inspire, and interact with their growing fan bases.
Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome, for instance, tweets his adventures to an audience of almost 200,000. Most posts feature a snapshot of him on the go, enjoying a variety of views and destinations, along with a line of pixie wisdom – in first-person, of course.
Similarly, Barbie stands out on Instagram with her style-centric account, akin to the likes of a real-life fashion blogger. Her following is a staggering 1.9 million, who eat up her perfectly poised posts day after day.
Other companies choose to employ spokespeople or hired actors to depict and develop the character of their brand mascots. Consider Flo, Progressive’s funny and likable “always happy-to-help insurance clerk,” an addition that the insurance company introduced a decade ago. Her eager-to-please quirkiness makes her the perfect solution for humanizing a generally boring and stuffy subject (insurance), which is why she’s been featured in hundreds of videos and commercials. Today, her Facebook page has 4.7 million likes and an engaged audience that shares and comments on her light-hearted posts, full of a special personality that Progressive just wouldn’t have been able to cultivate otherwise.
Keep in mind: If a mascot makes sense for you, decide: Will it be a human embodiment or some kind of character or cartoon? The possibilities are endless, but the end result has to make sense for your particular purposes – and audience – or else it risks falling flat. Start small: If your brand had a voice, what would it sound like? If it had a face, what comes to mind?
For a few creative consumer-facing companies, long-form prose has been grounds for exploration – as well as content success. Last spring, KFC joined the ring with the release of a romance novella, penned by Colonel Sanders and put out just in time for Mother’s Day, the company’s best-selling day of the year. The free, 96-page opus, “Tender Wings of Desire,” was part of a meal promotion and available for free on Amazon – to a 3.5 out of five-star rating, no less. Not bad, Colonel.
And still available for purchase on Amazon is the Geico Gecko’s 2013 title, “You’re Only Human: A Guide to Life.” Years after publication, readers are remarkably still buying the book, with commenters recommending it as a gift or coffee table read. In this case, a publisher originally approached Geico’s creative team at Martin Agency – writer-illustrator duo Anne Marie Hite and Adam Stockton – with the idea, and the team went from there. But inspiration can strike at any time, anywhere. Especially when you give yourself time to create and experiment.
Keep in mind: How does the gecko keep staying relevant over the years? “It’s the charm,” says Stockton. “He’s very likable. And [the] one way that Geico became human as a company…was ironically through a British lizard.” Likability goes a long way, and sometimes the best solution isn’t the most obvious. Schedule a brainstorming session – and be sure to bring in lots of different points of view.
Back in 2011, Burger King announced plans to phase out its mascot (the Burger King), and make its food the star of its ads, instead. But seven years later, the king was still alive and well. Just last fall, the giant-headed royal starred in a new spot aimed to raise awareness for Movember. The normally bearded mascot gets a shave in support of the movement, displaying a clever manipulation of the character as well as a creative use of real-time marketing.
Farmers Insurance also finds ways to feature its mascot, Professor Nathaniel Burke, in a range of successful video campaigns. Introduced in 2010, the character – played by actor J.K. Simmons – is a friendly and knowledgeable insurance guru under the guise of a seasoned academic. The videos are by turn informative and fun to watch, with last year’s “Hall of Claims” and “Stranger Claims” series, part of the ongoing “We Know From Experience” campaign, showing once again how many storylines become possible with a brand mascot in the mix.
Keep in mind: Figure out if a mascot makes sense for your brand, or how you might incorporate a certain character. If you’d like to explore the possibilities, as yourself, how might your brand look, humanized? Or what kind of personality might best complement your efforts? And, if you’re not ready, or it’s not the right fit, try the next best thing: investing in original artwork and animation.
Anastasia Dyakovskaya is a NewsCred Contributor.