Simon Barwick | September 25, 2013

Personality. That’s what your brand needs.

Is your brand lifeless, boring and me-too? Maybe it’s time for a mascot.

Brand mascots are as old as the hills and no way they’re relevant to today’s sophisticated but jaded audience. Right?

Think again. Take a look, here below, at the most recognisable faces of some of the world’s biggest brands and you’ll see they’re actually mascots:

mascots_small

But what else do you notice? Yes, they all represent insurance brands. Which proves the point that, if your brand languishes in a tedious-but-necessary category or, heaven forbid, one actually faced with consumer antipathy, a mascot (or, as current marketing speak would have it: avatar) might make the difference.

What makes a great mascot?

Typically, your mascot should be, if not human, then human-like. The technical term is ‘anthropomorphic’ and it’s this key characteristic that immediately creates a connection with the audience. expired sites The Aflac duck, seen above, is an outlier from the norm in that it bears no human traits, even in its inability to speak. Hats off to Aflac’s agency for pulling that one off.

Beyond being anthropomorphic, your mascot should also be :

– expressive: they need to easily deliver the message and the emotion you need to convey

– iconic: they’re your brand’s visual short-hand designed to trigger instant recognition

– memorable: think of your mascot and it should bring your key brand strengths to mind

What can a mascot do for your brand?

Apart from giving your brand warmth and personality, your mascot’s there to drive home your main sales or positioning messages. It can also do a lot of the dirty work for you. Need to warn your customers about a service outage or remind them to pay their bills on time? Get the mascot to do it.

Mascots are wonderfully versatile. Your mascot can also get out there in the real world. Trade shows, sales promotions, sports events – they’re all great stages on which your mascot can do their thing. You can use it to promote a product, a service, an idea or an entire brand.

The holy grail of mascots is to develop a character so popular that not only does it become part of the cultural currency, but becomes a profit centre in its own right through merchandising. Imagine that; consumers paying you for your advertising.

So how do you develop a mascot?

You start by answering these key questions:

Human or Not?

You’re looking to create a character to whom the consumer can relate and, better still, is positively attracted.

If you’re going with an animal mascot, what type of animal might it be? Some animals are easier to make anthropomorphic. A face that can be made vaguely to mimic human faces; eyes that face forward; hands that can hold a product or can punctuate a point; a body that’s generally upright: these are all a plus when you’re looking at animal types.

Ducks, dogs, geckos and meerkats possess innate appeal for humans. It’s much tougher to make a fish, snake or insect attractive and cuddly.

Going with a human may seem easier, but humans tend to be a bit more specific. That is, you need to to triangulate through a maze or variables including age, gender, class, ethnicity, status to arrive at a character that guarantees the broadest appeal. Or at least, one that appeals to your core audience.

What’s your mascot’s personality and characteristics?

If you’ve decided to go with a non-human character, you’ll still need to begin by choosing an actual human to model how your mascot acts, behaves, moves, even talks.

Having a real person in mind will help you plot precisely between typical tensions such as friendly versus aloof, wise versus wide-eyed, serious or humorous, young versus old and so on.

What’s the mascot’s role within the brand?

Will your mascot represent the brand or company (Progressive’s Flo) or a neutral observer (Snoopy for Metlife). Or maybe ambiguity is better: the mascot represents the problem that your product solves (Allstate’s Mayhem) or maybe the consumer (Geico’s gecko?). Knowing you character’s motivation is critical to the audience’s buy-in.

How should your mascot be portrayed?

You need to give careful consideration to this question since the method and style of portrayal can have serious time, cost, creative and production implications.

Do you use live action with a human actor? What happens if something untoward happens to your actor? Or they double their fee once they know the public loves them?

If you choose an imaginary character, on the other hand, is it drawn or animated and, if so, in what style: computer-generated 3D, or old-school pen and ink?

How do we bring the mascot to life?

At some point, you’re going to want to bring the character to life at your sports or sales event. Will that slick sketch work as a six-foot-tall articulated costume?

And come to think of it, you’re also going to need those cute dolls to sell to all your happy customers. Does your mascot lend itself to cost-efficient fabrication and, ultimately, have shelf-appeal?

Putting the theory into practice

sonny

Answering many of the challenges BB&P faced in imbuing Island Heritage Insurance’s well-established brand greater warmth and empathy, Sonny the Parrot grew out of months of creative exploration. We’ll leave you to evaluate how successful he is as you consider the questions we posed above, and watch as he’s revealed in future Island Heritage campaigns.

Simon Barwick

Creative Director + Principal