Anthropomorphism

Brand mascots in action: Travelocity Roaming Gnome

Image courtesy of Travelocity Over the past couple of months, I've published a series of articles about brand mascots, beginning with the basics in my post Brand Mascots, some more details in Beastly Branding, and finishing with a concrete example of a mascot in Why meerkats help markets, and a story about Online brand mascots.

With my recently discovered interest in brand mascots, I decided to interview Joel Frey, PR Manager of Travelocity, about this company's brand mascot -- Travelocity Roaming Gnome. Joel has been with Travelocity since 2003 and has had the chance to take the Gnome to many fun places including New York, London, Memphis, TN, Orlando and Chicago, to name a few.

SCHMOOZY FOX: When did the Gnome become Travelocity's brand mascot?

Joel Frey: The Roaming Gnome became Travelocity’s brand mascot in January 2004. The first television ad appeared during the annual Rose Bowl college football game. During the holiday season of 2003, we ran some teaser ads showing images of the Roaming Gnome, but not tying him to Travelocity in an effort to create some pre-campaign buzz.

Image courtesy of Travelocity

SCHMOOZY FOX: Who had the idea about the Travelocity Gnome, and why was it important for Travelocity to make him part of its brand?

Joel Frey: The concept of the Roaming Gnome was pitched to us by ad agency McKinney in 2003. At the time, we felt an icon like Roaming Gnome would help us differentiate our brand from our competitors and it has. We also wanted to provide travelers a lens into some adventures they could take on their own via Travelocity. The Roaming Gnome has been a powerful vehicle for us in that regard.

SCHMOOZY FOX:  Could you tell me about your communications strategy tied to the Gnome? Is it the main way for Travelocity to communicate with its customers and if not, what other ways do you use to build the brand?

Joel Frey: Because the Roaming Gnome has become so synonymous with our brand, he has definitely become a broader part of our communications strategy, especially on the Travelocity Facebook page . He also has his own Twitter profile though we have a separate Twitter page that we use to communicate with customers. Beyond social media and traditional advertising, we communicate with customers in a variety of forums including our Window Seat blog. It is made up of an expert team of writers who post daily on a variety of subjects including tips, deals and hot destinations.

Image courtesy of Travelocity

SCHMOOZY FOX: Does the Gnome visit only places in the US, or does he like travel internationally as well?

Joel Frey: He travels everywhere!

SCHMOOZY FOX: Why do you think Travelocity's customers like the gnome?

Joel Frey: He’s funny, whimsical, and doesn’t take himself too seriously.

SCHMOOZY FOX: Any exciting future plans of the Gnome that you could share with us?

Joel Frey: Rumor has it that there’s a trip to the Southern hemisphere in his future….

Image courtesy of Travelocity

Beastly branding

The owl of hootsuite.com

In my previous post, I talked about brand mascots: when to use them to boost your brand, and when to avoid them.

After the blog post was published, one of my blog readers pointed out that the majority of brand mascots are, in fact, animals.

This prompted me to do a bit more digging into the subject, and here’s what I found: a very interesting paper by Professor Stephen Brown from Ulster Business School: Where the wild brands are: some thoughts on anthropomorphic marketing. (( Brown, Stephen., Marketing Review, Fall 2010, Vol. 10, issue 3, pp. 209-224 ))

The paper gives many examples of companies using animals as brand mascots, and discusses which beasts are most popular.

Ronald McDonald

Throughout history, humankind has had a love-hate relationship with wild animals. On the one hand, we fear and detest powerful predators, especially those that destroy our crops and kill our livestock. On the other hand, we envy and admire their speed and grace, adorn ourselves in their fur and feathers, and worship them as totemic deities who symbolise our tribes, our teams, our territories. (( ibid. ))

In branding, mascots became popular a century ago in France, when almost every company adorned its products with friendly looking cats, dogs and insects. Interestingly, fictional people’s characters have also been used quite successfully in branding. For example, the 116-year old Michelin man is still alive and well-known.

Brown concludes that fictional human characters are most popular brand mascots, followed by birds, domestic animals, and wild animals (so, SCHMOOZY FOX is still doing okay here!). Insects, aquatic creatures, vegetables and body parts (!) have much less popularity, although I would imagine that some friendly insects such as bees and lady birds are okay to use!

The main rule of thumb is that “Brand animal popularity is directly related to the species’ physiological and psychological distance from humankind.” (( ibid. )) The closer the species to the human kind, the easier it is for people to “process” a brand mascot.

In terms of animals, domestic and wild, it’s interesting to see that different countries might attribute different qualities to the same animal. So, study the character of your brand beast well before you go global!

burts_bees