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.
Google and Why Bigger is Not Better
The last thing we need is a monopoly sitting its massive frame down on top of the internet. But that is precisely what we have, and with a search engine no less. It started innocently enough; Google had built a better mousetrap and we made use of it. Lycos, Infoseek, Alta Vista were good, but Google was better. And Google’s huge slice of the search pie was not achieved by creating an unfair advantage for itself like Microsoft did with its Windows operating systems, though we may see this behavior soon enough. The quality of Google’s search results and the speed with which they were delivered was superior to their major rivals. They also understood marketing better than their rivals, so anyone who might have been able to compete with their search results just didn’t understand what made for a better user experience, and did not foster their brand properly, and did not honor simplicity like the Google interface does. And their pledge to do no evil, though long since abandoned, was an assume starting pitch. Switching to an IPO makes that an impossiblity, and letting the NSA set up shop in your headquarters doesn't help matters either.
I am going to assume we all understand why monopolies are bad, that they starve the world of innovation, as the company in question inevitably begins stomping on their rivals in order to maintain their edge. There comes a time when the trail they blazed becomes old hat, and their bloated infrastructure starts to look like the Roman Empire in its waning days. The concentration of greed they attract starts to mess with the overmind of the once healthy company, and it slowly morphs into an ugly bridge troll that tries to seize control the revenue spigot for an entire business sector, and sometimes beyond. At a market cap of $163 billion and a 65% share of internet searches, its pretty easy to see that this company could make life pretty unpleasant for anyone sitting in front of a laptop if they devolve into something that stifles new ideas when they can’t control them.
My quasi nerdiness takes issue with the college talent Google is poaching from the scientfic community. The people who are supposed to be building my anti gravity boots and photon cannon are being snapped up the by the likes of Google and hedge funds, and for what? Does society really expect to receive a measurable, long term benefit from something like Google Plus? Google wants to contunually tweak its search algorythms and hedge funds are building convoluted credit derivative schemes that amount to gambling on a horse race. What a waste of talent. These guys should be building me the flying car I've dreamed about as a six year old.
If, like me, you enjoy innovation, then you must say yes to competition. Competition will force Google to get leaner. And meaner? Yes meaner, but not baseball bat to your shins meaner. They’ll be forced to make tough choices again, instead of figuring out how to stack the cards in the favor of their wealthiest patrons. Focusing on maximizing profit is exactly why Bing stinks, and I’d rather Google didn’t end up losing search effectiveness and sliding toward anything resembling Bing. They need to ensure the results give the consumer what they want, not what the biggest business wants. And so you the consumer, you need to take matter s into your own hands. Give them a healthy shove and throw them in the ring with another contender. And that contender is….Blekko?
Anatomy of a Stupid Name
Really? Blekko? Yeah, pick a name that evokes the very essence of distate - great idea. Why not take out all the stops and name it Dumpo or Turdsearch? After some digging I could not find a single article that explained how they arrived at the name. I will say this: it is purple cow, because you don’t easily forget the name. Recent contenders have done the same, however, and all save Bing have been relegated to the dust bin of history (Cuil) due to a weak product. So let’s move onto what we do know.
There’s plenty to like here, and I’ll try and give some key points as to what makes this search tool look interesting.
Great search results – I think it does a pretty nice job. Certainly in the same league with Google in my opinion. That is a green light for you to try it out right now.
Fast – The minimalist interface and timely server responses makes for a quick and tidy search.
Transparency – Blekko does not hide their search criteria. Seriously. For me this is nothing short of astonishing, because the formula is not secret and yet it still works, even with diabolical seo black hatters holding the blueprints. This concept runs completely counter to Google’s philosophy. I’m not saying it’s in Google’s best interest to do away with the heaviliy guarded, secret sauce search formula, because that has become part of their branding and the branding is still working for them. But Blekko’s take is refreshing and I certainly welcome it.
Spam immunity through community – To avoid leaving the their engine vulnerable to seo gaming, the supporting search community can tag spam sites and content mills, which then get weeded out of the system. Unlike auto-posting, which is a primary method of creating spam pages, events requiring a level of human activity, such as liking a page, requires real time and effort from real humans. This model has worked thus far, which is great news.
Slashtags – Slashtags are a Blekko feature that can also filter out spam sites and less worthwhile content, which brings better focus to a user’s search attempts. You can build your own slashtags or choose from an existing pool, you can limit the sites your are searching from, limit it to specific fields of study, disciplines, culure, specific tastes and so forth.
Seo tools – Blekko is friendly with seo specialists because they want to build a better search community. Google is a lot of things to seo analysts, but friendly isn’t one of them. The transparency helps, and so do the tools they offer (Cache, IP, Links, Rank, etc.)
Financial backing – Blekko and Scoutjet, the technology behind the search tool, have some serious money backing them, which they’ll need in order to go the distance.
And Now the Bad
What don’t I like about Blekko? Besides the name, which sure is unique but somehat unpleasant, I don’t like that the founders are from DMOZ. DMOZ started out great but just turned ended up being an exclusionary waste of time that benefitted a select group. And their other invention, Topix, is decidedly less useful than Reddit. Here are some other points:
Total Lack of Branding – Very little thought thus far has gone into their branding. They couldn’t have coughed up even a measly few thousand clams out of their $24 million in seed money to develop corporate ID? The designer in me is frowning.
Smaller Voices Get Ignored – Community immunity might give you great search results for shopping, important sites, and anything sanctioned by the herd, but what if you are looking for something obscure or controversial? If the conventional wisdom of the moment turns its nose at a point of view, the group thinkers might vote website with this information right off the island, and then you never get to see it to make your own decision about it. Think no further than Galileo to see why this is troublesome; his research would have never seen the light of day if Blekko was the only mode of communication back then. It should therefore be duly noted that I will do serious research using a tool other than Blekko; probably Google. Searching for information on sites that lack the visibility they deserve might be difficult until the Scoutjet bot finally tracks it down. Blekko does not allow users to submit sites for review and instead recognizes new fare once people in the webisphere have linked to it.
So what else is there? Well, the slash tag filter could mean that newer sites are never searched because surfers may fail look outside of the favorite channels they’ve developed using searchtags. These sites could subsequently die due to underexposure, which is bad. Blekko could also wind up going down a road none of us like. Where is the path to cash for these guys? Some day the angel investors will want to see some results, so this site has to eventually turn a profit. When that day arrives, the chosen business model could smell like that ancient plate of lasagna in your fridge that is currently growing a beard. But this is all speculation; we won’t know till we get there.
Google needs your help. It needs genuine competition to reinvigorate its drive to improve organic searches instead of focusing so heavily on how to get its hands on the purse strings of its pay per click customers. Blekko also needs people to use its product. So I suggest trying out their search engine and see if it stacks up against the heavy hitters like Google and Yahoo. You’ll be doing us all a service by hindering the growth of a damaging monopoly in the making, decreasing the reach of big brother, and fostering our so called free market, all while finding the best place to buy cheesecake, review software or whatever it is you are seeking. That said, I do not recommend Blekko when trying to find the road less traveled, as more obscure sites and information takes a hit in order to filter out the towering web spam tsunami that dilutes the quality of our search results.
From its earliest roots human culture has undoubtedly relied on storytelling not just for entertainment purposes, but also as a way to successfully pass on vital information. Stories about real world experiences are easily and readily consumed because people want to empathize, be amazed, and laugh. A story can actually reward the listener with a rush of endorphins if the story is powerful enough, so if your company is not using the power of storytelling to build its brand on the web, then your web strategy is in need of an overhaul.
If your company's history is interesting, you need to tell people about it. If your company history is boring, you still need to should tell it, but you will need to put in a little extra effort writing and editing in order turn it into an effective marketing tool. Your history can help set you apart from your competitors, because your customers consume stories just as sure they consume whatever it is that you sell them. In the customer's mind the story gets strongly attached to your company's name and to your products. Ask die hard Apple fans about the history of the company, and most can tell you about they started out in a small garage in Los Altos. Many can tell you the story of each Apple product line, even the obscure failures, because there is a cool, quirky story for each and every one of them. The level of detail they can provide you with is startling, and this serves as a form of free advertising for companies like Apple.
Now ask that same person where they left their car keys or what they saw on the way to work and the recall just isn't nearly as reliable, because usually there is nothing unique or interesting about how the car keys ended up on the desk or the top of the microwave. No one is there carefully crafting a story about the keys, there's no writer embedding that dull history with symbolism, no cleverly constructed metaphors. Unless of course the owner of the keys is wise enough to create a story around the where he or she placed the keys, which is a mind technique employed by the world's foremost memory experts. And shows the power of a good story and powerful mental imagery.
So we can see the power of story and that it can be used to strengthen your brand, extend brand awareness, and get information to your audience that you want them to remember. If executed well we can expect to see tremendous opportunities for word of mouth advertising, free advertising, and a good reason for your customers to think of you as something more than just another company. So give your customers some new reasons to spend more on your products and services - just make sure you have the right talent in place to get the word out in a creative, engaging way.