In May 2014 McDonald’s officially introduced its new mascot – Happy. His sole purpose was to bring “more fun and excitement to kids’ meals,” but instead he became a laughing stock. Happy Meal box with thin arms, legs and a wide smile, which was usually described as “creepy”, didn’t win people’s hearts. Probably the number of sold Happy Meals won’t change, but at least the Internet had a good time mocking the company’s poor sense of aesthetics.
Mascots are often considered childish, but remain one of the popular marketing tools. However, are they really needed? And what role do they play?
It seems there are three general reasons to incorporate a mascot in your strategy:
- to emphasize the idea behind a product;
- to build connection with customer;
- to humanize the company.
Here are some examples of companies that introduced their mascots with different results.
Emphasizing the idea
Many mascots depict an idea or a quality that the product itself has. If your company wants to emphasize a specific trait of its products or services, a mascot can be valuable addition to marketing strategies.
It’s very common to assign certain traits and strengths to animals. For example ChatBee, a customer service company uses the image of a bee, because this insect is a token of hard work and team-oriented approach.
Chinese Tmall.com has a black cat as its mascot, since in Chinese culture felines symbolize an attention to detail and accuracy. But using animals as symbols can be tricky. Black cat can be considered a bad omen in many parts of the world.
The idea of incorporating a mascot is also common outside commerce – they are used by sports teams, music bands and organizations. FIFA uses the image of a three-branded armadillo named Fuleco to promote World Cup in Brazil. Its name stands for football and ecology, Fuleco loves football and in the same time he is very environmentally conscious, being a member of endangered species.
Building a connection
Mascots can also help build or strengthen customer’s connection to the brand. If you advertise a product for children, having a smiling, friendly creature as a spokesperson is almost a must. But you don’t need to be a child to develop bond with the company. Take M&M’s mascots for example – although they are candy-shaped critters, their dialogues are more likely to entertain a grown-up.
Unfortunately when you’re designing your mascots to suit adult customers’ expectations, things can get tricky. Kraft launched its Milkbite snack – a mix of milk and granola – and used Milkbite bar named Mel as a mascot. Mel is struggling with its identity as it doesn’t fit neither with milk nor with granola. Sad, Woody-Allenish mascot was applauded by advertising specialists but removed soon after, when Kraft started receiving complaints that it insults people of mixed ethnicities, portraying them as insecure and less valuable.
Humanizing the product
Another reason for incorporating mascots is humanizing the company’s product. It is especially important if the product or the whole industry is considered difficult or overly complicated. Insurances and finance services can be quite intimidating, so Progressive decided to hire Flo, the Progressive Girl. She got really popular for being weird, enthusiastic and funny.
British Churchill Insurance recently launched a new campaign starring their mascot English bulldog named Churchill. Both Churchill and Flo are friendly, funny and they don’t talk too much company slang. The companies can stray from a rather unfriendly, red-tape related image of the industry towards something more reassuring.
Computer services were also full of mascots in the beginning – the most notable example being Microsoft’s Clippy, who was designed to explain the complexity of Microsoft Office. Unfortunately for the designers, he was more irritating than helpful and the company decided to put him to rest in 2004. They even showed his tombstone in Office 2010 advertisement:
On the other hand Linux kept his penguin named Tux and the animal is still alive and kicking. Apart from constant presence as a company mascot, Tux appeared in several video games, got a female friend named Gown and even a monument in Russia.
Means to an end
Apart from assessing its functionalities you should bear in mind that not everyone has to love your mascot, even if it seems like a great idea. McDonald’s Happy has been used before in Latin America and in Europe, so cruel comments in North America must have been a surprise.
A bad reception of a mascot usually ends in its rebranding or complete withdrawal. Unless you’re McDonald’s. They’ve decided to stick with Happy and give no further comments on its bad publicity.
In the end, not every company needs a heartwarming, colorful critter popping up in the product. However, sometimes mascots can play a significant role in persuading customers towards the company as long as they are consistent with company’s image and serve specific purposes. Good mascots are meaningful and aim to create a stronger connection to the brand by promoting specific values or bringing more personal touch to the service. The best ones can become industry’s landmarks.
Do you like our posts? You might also like our product.
Give LiveChat a go during a free, 30-day trial.