Why mascots are still a good option for brands

Josh Peachey's picture

The Wunderman Thompson Duracell team: Bob Boxer, global business director, Neil Godber, joint head of planning, and Jason Berry, global creative director, share their thoughts on why mascots are still a good option for brands...

 

Mascots are grrreat aren’t they? 

The Honey Monster, the Smash Martians and Tony the Tiger were everywhere in the ‘seventies and ‘eighties, but comparatively few mascots have emerged since then. Changing tastes, the rise of supermarket own brands and restrictions on the marketing of sugary foods to kids have all played a part in their decline. Perhaps the greatest issue lies in short-term thinking and the marketing industry’s focus on instant wins. But the prognosis shouldn’t be terminal. 

There is undoubtedly a disconnect between the professionals and the public. Kevin the Carrot may have got a roasting in the marketing press, but Aldi’s ad took a highly commendable fourth place in Brandwatch’s Christmas ad listings last year. He’s proving an even greater hit with consumers this year, Kantar has rated Kevin’s latest outing the most effective Christmas marketing campaign of 2019.      

Clever advertisers have used this perceived ‘naffness’ to their advantage. The likes of Gio Compario play to this and, more recently, Churchill Insurance’s ‘Churchie’ has been reimagined as the meme-friendly ‘Chur-chill’.  Overall, mascots have proven particularly successful in these low-interest categories such as insurance and price comparison.  Direct Line and Compare the Market have used them to humanise their brands and become household names.    

Some brand mascots are timeless. Think of Andrex and pretty much all of us can recall ‘Soft, strong and very, very long’ every time we see a Labrador Retriever puppy.  But we can become so wrapped up in a character that we forget the product that’s being sold, especially when there’s a more complex proposition to communicate. 

The much-loved Churchill dog was revamped this year

This issue is at its most acute for brands using celebrities as mascots - think EE with Kevin Bacon or Ryan Reynolds for BT. While there are some clear benefits in blurring the lines between brand ambassador, influencer and mascot, there is a significant risk of ‘puppy blindness’. Sure you might not need to invest time in character development but consumers are buying into the authenticity and cultural signifiers of that individual, rather than the brand or product they are selling.

In the age of Gen-Z, we may see a rise in the use of virtual influencers. These present a blank canvas, they won’t go off message and you avoid potentially embarrassing skeletons in the closet. Moreover, they offer opportunities for activations across multiple channels and translate well into emerging tech-driven opportunities. However, regardless of their interactivity, they are still essentially mascots. 

Mascots of all persuasions need nurturing and they need to evolve to stay relevant. The nostalgia factor will only take you so far, and mascots that don’t stay fresh will disappear. We were recently tasked with re-imagining the Duracell Bunny. It was an exciting prospect and really galvanised the creative floor, but it was also daunting. 

Times have moved on since the Duracell Bunny first drummed his way into our living rooms. We had to make him resonate with a new audience that is more attuned to games consoles and superhero movies than wind-up toys. We had to make some hard choices.

Updating a much-loved character will always be divisive, but in this case, there was so much brand equity wrapped up in ‘Bunny’ that it would simply have been wasteful to send him to the rabbit hutch in the sky.

"Neither batteries, nor bunnies, are a particularly sexy proposition."

We decided the most logical approach was to think of ourselves as talent agents. Hollywood reboots franchises and characters all the time; the ones that work best are those that reflect the times and get the casting just right. Once you understand what the character stands for and what makes it tick, you can then decide what types of scenarios it should – and shouldn’t – get itself into. 

Neither batteries nor bunnies are a particularly sexy proposition. What’s more important is what Duracell allows you to do. Having a working device can be a literal life-saver, which makes ‘Bunny’ a superhero. However, in keeping with the spirit of the times, we concluded he should be more Deadpool than Lassie. 

The hero/jester archetype allowed us to have fun with the character. Making the most of that opportunity meant giving him a voice - and most of the big-screen superheroes are American… and you can’t please everyone!

"Mascots may be a bit twentieth century but that doesn’t mean they no longer have a place in a world of influencers..."

Some might claim the golden age of the mascot is behind us, but nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, mascots may be a bit twentieth century but that doesn’t mean they no longer have a place in a world of influencers and instant gratification. There has never been a better time to call on their services. 

Consumers are time-poor and attention spans are plummeting as we have more and more options on how we spend our (limited) free time. Mascots cut through the noise. They are instantly recognisable even when we’re at our most distracted. When used effectively, mascots simplify the complex and can bring even the driest of subjects to life, initiating customer journeys across almost any channel.  

Mascots are here to stay. Simples.