There’s some debate about whether a brand mascot is more effective than a logo. Some argue that a logo stands the text of time whereas mascots get old and people tire of them. Rubbish! The M&M characters have been around since black and white TV and they are still some of the most recognized and well-liked characters in today’s pop culture. The Pillsbury Doughboy has now appeared in more than 600 commercials and if Pillsbury ever put him out to pasture, their sales would tank. McDonalds knows the same about Ronald McDonald. Why do you think Michelin brought back the Michelin Man? Without him, they wouldn’t stand out in the highly competitive tire market. He makes them unique and even likable.
A logo can’t make you likeable. It can’t look you in the eye, wink, giggle and give you a warm-and-fuzzy. It can’t walk, talk and demonstrate an attribute you want associated with your brand. A logo just sits there. It’s static. Yes, there are great logos. The Nike Swoosh comes to mind, but it doesn’t entertain you. You don’t point to it and tell a friend, “Hey, watch this – it’s cool!” Tiger Woods might make the commercial worth watching, but the logo itself doesn’t do the heavy lifting. A brand mascot can.
Think of how the Trix rabbit does the heavy lifting for Trix. In every commercial, he’s in an entertaining quest to get his hands on Trix. His “must have” attitude portrays the cereal as highly desirable. The Lucky Charms Leprechaun does virtually the same thing. Every commercial is an exciting chase scene where kids want to catch him for his Lucky Charms that are “magically delicious.” No logo could portray “delicious” as effectively as a cartoon brand mascot. Think of how Sonny goes cuckoo for Coco Puffs.
So if brand mascots are so effective, why don’t more companies build brands around them. Several reasons. First, a logo is easier. That’s not to say that logo development should be taken lightly. Done right, it can be an incredibly involved process. However, development of a brand mascot is even more complex. Unfortunately, the average hack can scrawl out a rough vision of what they think would be a good logo. Drawing a cartoon character requires more training and talent. I don’t want to insult my logo designer friends, but I’ve spent more than 20 years designing both logos and cartoon characters, and the later is simply more involved. You have eyes, facial expressions, posture, props, clothing and a litany of other issues to contend with that are not involved with logo design.
Plus you have a personality profile to develop. A good cartoon brand mascot acts consistently. They have a sense of who they are. They approach things from a certain perspective – hopefully one that is built around an attribute that is critical to your brand positioning. Ronald McDonald is, above all else – fun.
The other aspect that prevents wider use of brand mascots is the fact that they are not appropriate for all types of products or services. I doubt you’ll ever see a cartoon brand mascot pitching fine jewelry, luxury cars, legal services or a funeral home.
So what industries make the best homes for brand mascots? Brand mascots work very well in markets that are highly competitive, full of mature products or services where price pressures are high, and it’s difficult to differentiate one competitor from the other. That’s why you see Snoopy, the AFLAC duck and the Gieco Gecko all fighting it out in the insurance industry. It’s why you see so many cartoon brand mascots in the cereal isle and cookies shelves of your grocery store. It’s why the Taco Bell Chihuahua stepped into the ring with the Burger King King and our old friend Ronald McDonald.
The basic rule of thumb for whether or not you ought to use a brand mascot centers around competitive pressures, pricing pressures and the ability to differentiate. If you are in a war zone, you’re enemies have basically the same weapons you do, and margins are getting squeezed, you may want to recruit a brand mascot to lead your charge.