Today most companies wouldn't dare entertain using a mascot to increase brand recognition, despite decades of proof that they are one of the strongest tools at a business's disposal, especially in niches where uniqueness is hard to come by. Think of the Michelin Man for a second: flabby looking, a simple minded smile, recent images of him are uninteresting monochrome drawings and sophomoric 3D renderings. I seriously thought he was made of marshmallows as a kid rather than rubber tires, and apparently I wasn't the only one. All in all not very aesthetically inspiring and no detectable personality, yet this character and thus the brand he champions has had an astounding track record. Take a long, hard look at this guy – he reads like disposable art, yet he's been reeling it in like a boss for over a century. Born in 1894, he is older than the automobile. If you think the parent company's longevity is not linked directly to Bibendum (his real name), you need to sit down and deal with reality. Mascots, just like any good marketing strategy, can change a company's fortune by improving brand recognition and getting the word out, except the reach and staying power of a mascot can be orders of magnitude greater than most arrows in the marketing quiver. The return on investment for the Michelin Man and the Martin the Gecko (Geico) must border on the absurd. A one time fee to build a public face and spokesperson for your business, one who will do your bidding, your every whim, without ever complaining. Why wouldn't any company with a pulse give this marketing option serious consideration?
Why Businesses Don't Create Mascots
Fear of wasting money
A healthy fear indeed, but let's split the group of wary companies into two groups. Any company unwilling or unable to spend any cash on web and print advertising needn't explore this avenue at this juncture, as they might have problems so big that a mascot is not the best option. Better to focus on branding as a whole in order to improve your fortunes and then visit this possibility later.
The second group, however, is afraid the project would fall on its face, and their marketing team would be left with nothing to show the executive board but a few sketches of a garishly colored humpty-dumpty waving to his fans with a mindless grin. If you go to an agency that doesn't have experience crafting characters for use in branding then sure, this could conceivably happen. Just like with logo or website design, I would suggest going to an agency that has proven they can deliver the goods.
Fear of creating a Frankenstein monster
Some may worry that their creative labor might unleash a mascot so hideous that it could destroy or maim its master. What a great story that would be, but its just that - a story. The actual risk is that you will create a half baked whelp that it would have to be mothballed, but even then, my guess is that nine times out of ten you can just send the misfit back to the drawing board and return with something that works. The slew of Olympic mascots created over the years tend to rank among the worst ever created, and yet there has been no lasting harm to the brand. The idea that a creation could be so embarrassing that it will be have to be swiftly put down with a wooden stake or silver bullet is a baseless fear. Choose a skilled creative agency to get more bang for your buck, and make certain they truly understand your company's goals. Don't be afraid to send them back reject and idea if they miss the mark. That's what a company is supposed to do when it gets a print mock up that it doesn't like, and this is no different. If you don't like or understand the sketches, its creator should be able to explain and defend its merits.
Inability to measure value
Unless they can directly attribute increases in sales to a mascot, some marketing directors might feel they cannot justify spending the money, especially if the CEO is of a like mind. “Google Analytics Syndrome" may have set in, and some skeptics expect concrete proof that the mascot is building revenue, which would mean the additional expense of surveys to try and confirm the truth of it. Take a step back for a second and consider the Budweiser Frogs and Mr. Clean. The frogs were a shining example of the viral ad campaign before the coin was even termed. Mr Clean's visage is not easy on the eyes, but people know the face, and its brand recognition even now is among the strongest in a seriously dull market segment. These companies do not need a survey or analytics to see their mascot is working for them; neither did Starbucks to see the power behind their Mermaid logo. In fact the Starbucks logo is a prime example of what this is really about: a mascot requires a one time starter fee, an initial investment just like a solid logo is. That logo can cement your brand globally, and so can a mascot, even a bald old man wearing a white t-shirt.
You want to see proof that a mascot have a measurable physical value? Mr Clean started out with a another company back in 1958 that created soaps used to clean ship hulls. He was later sold to Proctor & Gamble, so it is quantifiable, but don't get hung up on trying to give a monetary value to all the intangibles they bring to the table. Better to spend that money figuring how to make that mascot bring more visibility to you.
There are no mascots in our business sector, or it is not tasteful
If there are none in your niche, then that's precisely why you should create one. You need to stand out, and that actually requires you to show some novelty, some unique qualities. Try trail blazing for a second, will you?
Anyone who thinks their business sector is inappropriate for mascots, there a only a few. Too boring is not a real reason, cremation services is. Tiresome arenas like investing should look no further than the Merrill Lynch bull for a good example of how it can work. I've developed mascots for the defense industry, which might seem odd at first, but the role of the mascot is different for everyone. They didn't sing and dance and wear clown make up in this instance - they were silent, tough and were part of the logo, and that's all they needed to do. I've seen septic tank cleaning companies with mascots painted on the side of their trucks, so there's very few industries that are a bad idea.
It's a safe bet that a few CEO's out there would be hard pressed to tell you how a mascot could really benefit a company, because they haven't given much thought. A good starting point might be to get them to think of their alma mater or favorite college sports program, and the corresponding team mascot. Those things are not mere window dressing, they are brand identity. It's also easy to see how it works for breakfast cereals. With this as our starting point, we shall cover some key benefits.
Why Businesses Should Use Mascots
Flexibility, and proof is in the ugly
Helping Hand, Hamburger Helper's severed hand mascot, is an absolute abomination, but there is he is, offering low quality fare to a very large audience and doing it well. He's still on the product box, in print ads, and in commercials because he has brand stickiness; his likeness is etched into the skulls of consumer everywhere. The Chuck E Cheese mascot is essentially creepy looking rat, a rather unappealing choice of animals, but his Nickelodeon tv ads are incessant because he is tremendously successful at what he does. Take a look at the ridiculous inflatable crown he has duped kids into wearing, as if it were something to aspire to. Now that is power, and his lack of aesthetic appeal is evidence that we have room to move around when building a new character, novel angles to explore in order gain some uniqueness. These characters are prime purple cow and 99 percent of competing businesses are too boring, cheap or frightened to challenge the advantage they give their companies. Doesn't anyone believe they can seize market share from a brand represented by a white, balloon-like glove with a clown face drawn on it? Businesses should learn from sectors that are making use of them to good effect. Ronald Mcdonald and his band of haggard looking miscreants put the Burger King mascot into a coma for over two decades. Burger King management wussed out and pulled life support on the poor guy. But they came to their senses – mascots are immortal – so the king was reborn as “Creepy" King in 2003, ready to do battle from a different angle. Creepy was part of the marketing angle – how is that for flexibility?
Low risk, high return
As we've already discussed, the cost of creating a mascot is pretty low considering how much it can do, how great it's potential reach is, how loyal it is. The best human employee won't literally jump through hoops for you, but the mascot will take whatever you throw it's way and ask for more. Well, maybe your best employee will jump through actual hoops for you, but that's pretty pathetic, so they mascot is the better choices.
Logo on steroids
A mascot can be incorporated into the logo (think Carl's Jr), or serve as a sort of second logo, often with just as much brand recognition (Green Giant, Sam the Toucan). Only this logo has the potential to move around and read a script, which can be used connect with the consumer in ways that a conventional logo otherwise could not.
A chance at cultural immortality
Kool Aid man first appeared on the scene in the 70's, destroying public property and doling out flavored sugar water to children everywhere. His special brand of magnetic creepiness has endured, and his face can be found outside his normal 9 to 5. He is a part of American pop culture, having appeared numerous times on Family Guy, artwork with his likeness has made it into the MOMA, and hip hop fashion has made use of his image.
The power of anthropomorphism and humor
All ages respond to anthropomorphic characters. People want to see faces in everything, so why not give them one? Your customers might also like to see your company have a sense of humor. Leave the antics to a mascot if your staff isn't known for their comedic whit. Laughing puts people at ease, it can even be seen as a service, and that service might just be rewarded with sales.
Mascots can change with the times, with your needs
Ronald McDonald used to wear a cup holding tray on his head. I kid you not. He had a soft drink cup stuck to his nose. Again, not joking. Grimace, his dimwitted, gum drop shaped partner, was once a six armed villain whose gig was to stealing food. With the help of ad agencies these and the rest of the McDonaldland characters were honed over time. Even then they were still a repulsive looking bunch, but no matter, the circus like atmosphere they peddled was absolute contraband for kids. If a ever mascot needs tinkering in order to stay relevant or increase visibility, then tinker away, they are extremely flexible, and it can be done any number of times.
Mascots are overlooked as a marketing option by too many businesses. Some established brands had the good sense to develop them years ago and still enjoy their benefits. Only a brave handful have the good sense in the present to create one, unless they work in a sector where it is common practice. What a shame to dismiss outright the mascot when it has to so much potential to offer; it should be crystal clear that standing out from the pack is vital to a business to ensure long term success and growth, and a unique mascot is an image and a mouthpiece unlike any other. No one else can wield it, it can be a keystone for successful marketing campaigns for years to come, and can be the ultimate employee who will never jump ship for a competitor. They work for free to boot.
Like to a see a list of some famous business mascots? Check these out.