Author: Rowland Heming
Post date: November 14th 2013
Brand Mascots and Visual Communication
It’s called visual communication: For example, look at these images below, I’m sure you can recognise each and every one of them, whatever language you speak – whereas, in order to read this article, you can only do it, if you speak the language it is written in!
So it’s not surprising that one of the smartest ways brands can communicate to consumers, and to get their message across, is to use a brand mascot, because by creating a mascot, brands are able to express in a visual form, many aspects of the brand message: Positioning, attitude, age, gender, product characteristics, origins… to name but a few.
Whilst brand mascots have been around for sometime: Tony the Tiger, Captain Iglo, the Nesquik Rabbit, Johnny Walker, Ronald McDonald etc., a deeper investigation will reveal that many have also changed and evolved over time. To give one example:
The story goes that André and Edouard Michelin were walking around their factory in France, when they saw a stack of the tyres they produced and announced that, ‘that stack of tyres looks like a man’. This statement allegedly led to the creation of the famous ‘Michelin Man’, properly known as ‘Bibendum’. Whatever the truth of his origins, ‘Bibendum’, has been around since 1894 and is a perfect example of how a mascot can express a brand’s character and create a bond between manufacturer and consumer, and yet still evolve, along with the brand and product itself.
In the beginning, the Michelin company sold tyres of solid rubber, tyres that could withstand any road obstacles imaginable, so to reflect this, the brand mascot, ‘Bibendum’ was portrayed as a portly man with pince-nez glasses, smoking cigars and drinking a glass full of road hazards (nails, broken glass etc.). In this way, the portrayal of the brand mascot was specifically designed to reflect the product characteristics and benefits: Tough, masculine, serious, reliable and adult etc. In later years though, when tyres became pneumatic and filled with air, the ‘Bibendum’ mascot was adapted to reflect the new product characteristics. ‘Bibendum’ stopped his drinking of broken glass and nails, and became slimmer and fitter and of course younger, to reflect the performance benefits of the new tyres.
The end effect of all this careful presentation of the Michelin brand and the evolution of its mascot, created a communication reversal for consumers. Whereby, all of the characteristics invested in the ‘Bibendum’ by the brand, now allowed consumers to discern all the characteristics of the brand and product, through the brand mascot.
This example shows how a mascot can, not only visualise a product and it’s characteristics, but also shows how a mascot can create an ‘instant’ connection and familiarity with consumers, a connection that is difficult to achieve with any amount of text. Remember also that in the age of the Internet, the mascot’s visual communication capabilities will allow you to communicate your brand message to almost any nationality across the world – Clearly an essential criteria for any brand today!
Many of the brand mascots that we see today, have become not only an image of the brand, but have in a sense become, brand ambassadors. They articulate the brand’s core attributes to consumers in a personal an intimate way, building trust and animating and amplifying the brand message in a simple and direct language.
For example, we see Tony the Tiger, tells us directly that Frosted Flakes are ‘Grreat!’, always a happy smiling ambassador to the Kellogg’s brand. We can see the lion being used on Nestlé’s ‘Lion Bar’ to express the strength of the product’s energy giving benefits.
The Panda is used by WWF (World Wildlife Fund), to create empathy and tug at our heartstrings, and the elephant, that symbolises Côte d’Or chocolate. is used to simply remind us of the product’s African heritage.
There are times when a brand mascot can be used to do a strategic job, like uniting a product brand that carries different product names throughout the world. A strong example of this is Procter and Gamble’s brand Mr Proper, which has different names in different markets, but always carries the same smiling, bald headed brand mascot. Whether he is called Mr Proper, Mr Propre, Meister Proper, Mister Clean, Mastro Lindo, Maestro Limpio or Don Limpio…!
Other clear advantages of building a brand mascot, must of course lay in the fact that, once created, a mascot can become the cornerstone of any brand-building program. Just as is the case with Mr Proper, the mascot can animate brand events, educate, entertain and support brand promotions across media and across time. In this way, mascots help brands to become trusted friends, they build relationships with consumers, are highly recognisable celebrities and therefore stand-out in a competitive market place and ultimately, add clear value to a brand.
So what should you take into account if you are considering creating a brand mascot for your brand?
Most importantly, brand characters should be highly relevant to the brand or the product attributes. Just as Mr Proper, wears a pure white ‘T Shirt’ and shows off his muscles, to express the strength of the cleaning product he represents, your character should articulate (even amplify), the brand message and support the product benefits you want consumers to understand.
To be effective, any mascot you create, should be understandable and have a character that goes beyond a static image – for example, I would suggest that the Starbucks mermaid is a symbol rather than a mascot as it serves only to identify the brand, rather than express the brand character. Think of the mascot as a positive, living entity with a story, a personality, an environment, an attitude and a style of its own. Take time to create a profile for your mascot that will show all who work with it, how it dresses, how it acts and what it believes etc. In this way you will be creating a unique set of character attributes that can be built-on as time goes by and will always support and help differentiate your brand.
Once you have created your mascot, make sure it appears in all your communications and most of all, make sure it is animated, flexible and capable of doing many brand or product related things. Remember to always be consistent, because once a mascot exists, it becomes ‘real’ to consumers and an emotional attachment will develop, creating a bond that can last for generations to come.
Rowland Heming – November 2013 ©