From Kevin the Carrot to Comparethemarket’s meerkat to the Green Giant, mascot characters play a big role in some brands’ marketing efforts. But creating a character that audiences actually like (rather than merely recognize), that can carry a brand’s message to customers, isn’t easy. What do marketers need to bear in mind if they’re trying to sell a new character to consumers? What do the best ones have in common? And with marketing becoming more complex with each passing year, do character mascots actually have a place in advertising?
The role of a brand mascot is important in our increasingly fragmented marketing landscape. They can be hard-working and versatile vehicles, performing different roles across a brand’s ecosystem from TV to digital platform and from social to experiential. In commoditized marketplaces, such as insurance and energy, they are essential tools of the trade. Creating iconic, beloved characters is trickier. There is no guaranteed formula for success. Obviously it helps if the mascot is also a mnemonic, like O2’s Bubl, but who could have predicted that a cravat-wearing Russian meerkat would steal the nation’s heart? Maybe that’s where creative genius comes in.
It’s a human truth – you listen to people you like. It’s the same with brands. If you can create a character that people love, they’ll listen. Of course, it needs to have a reason to exist and a clear connection with the brand. But the very best characters develop a life beyond the brand and make it into culture. How? By being bloody entertaining. That’s the only rule. They should make you laugh, smile or quote them in the pub. Whether it’s the writing, casting, character design or all of the above, a great character gives more than it takes.
Brand mascots can feel a bit like the easy way out of a brief. The best are the ones that have stood the test of time, but in a digital world, it’s increasingly difficult for them to keep up with the pace of change and remain relevant to culture.
Creating a new brand mascot is always a big risk for brands. Maybe instead let’s think about new techniques to help brands stand out that are relevant to culture today. Listening to consumers, understanding audiences and building impactful creative might be more worthwhile.