michelin man

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

Brand mascots

Photo by Bludgeoner86 on Flickr

You’ve ordered yourself a great logo. You’ve built an attractive web site. You’ve sorted out the look and feel of your distribution channels. And you even have a brand slogan that goes well with your funky brand name.

Provided that your business idea actually makes economic sense and that you’ve positioned yourself well against competition, chances are that you’ve built a good basis for your brand strategy that will lead to satisfied customers, and big profits.

And yet, you feel that there should be something else that will give your brand a personality.

Have you noticed that when you buy your funky Kipling bag, there’s a very cool little toy monkey that comes with it?

Or, when you buy your Michelin guide, it always has the Michelin man on its front page?

These cartoon-like characters are called brand mascots, and they are there to infuse your brand with that precious valuable personality.

Rather than part of your visual identity, brand mascots are essentially a marketing communications tool that gives your brand a more memorable and emotional character. Even if your brand mascot is actually an animal, chances are, it will give your brand a human touch.

Though brand mascots are becoming increasingly common, especially with the rise of social media (check out the Travelocity Roaming Gnome on Facebook), really good and effective ones are still rare.

kipling monkeyHere are some tips that will help you create a great brand mascot:

1) Think of your target audience -- will it be prepared to listen to your brand stories told by a cute mascot? If your company offers specialized software to accountants, don’t start pushing cartoon-like characters onto them to promote your stuff. The funky factor of your brand mascot needs to be consistent with the profile of your customers.

2) Don’t get obsessed with making your mascot look like your logo.

In fact, the role of the mascot is not to enhance your visual identity, but make your brand alive. Some companies change the appearance of their mascots, adapting it to the situation. For instance, different Kipling bags will have different monkey mascots, depending on the style of the bag.

Similarly, the Twitter bird often takes different shapes and forms, somehow still managing to look Twitter-like!

Twitter birds

3) Make your brand mascot connect to your customers emotionally. The main question you need to ask yourself is this, “What do I want my customers to feel when they interact with my brand mascot?” There should be something in your customers that resonates with the character of the mascot.

4) Consider a brand mascot only if your business makes economic sense.

This is a tough one! I’ve seen many startups invest tons of money into a lot of activity around their brand mascots -- only to realize that these cartoon characters alone neither  drove sales, nor built the brand. If you have nothing valuable to offer to your customers, they will be annoyed rather than delighted by your brand mascot.

5) Finally, make people remember your brand, not your brand mascot.

A brand mascot is only one element of your brand communications, but it doesn’t replace your whole brand strategy.  When people think of your brand, it’s okay if they first recall a funny cartoon-like brand mascot. What’s more important, however, is that they know what exactly this mascot exactly stands for! Remembering a cute furry animal, and not having a clue about what you actually sell, is not what you want from your consumers. Brand mascots enhance your brand, but they are not your brand.