What is a Mascot: Understanding the Role and Significance
A mascot represents a person, fictional character, animal, or inanimate object, symbolizing various entities such as product brands, sports teams, or organizations. Mascots often possess anthropomorphic qualities, embodying human characteristics like talking, walking, and dancing. Mascot branding can originate from cartoons, illustrations, and animations commonly found on cereal boxes.
Mascot branding plays a vital role in visually and emotionally connecting with fans and consumers, becoming iconic symbols that encapsulate the associated brand or team’s values, spirit, and identity. In addition, their presence fosters a strong bond between the audience and the represented entity.
Any creature or object can be anthropomorphized today thanks to advancements in digital technology, computer-generated imagery, and 3D animation. This allows mascots to come to life in various settings, such as sports games or special events, where they interact with customers in oversized costumes worn by humans, creating an engaging and immersive experience.
One of the notable advantages of utilizing a mascot is the ability to have complete control over its physical characteristics and personality. Operators can dictate their actions and words, ensuring a consistent representation. However, it is worth mentioning that in some instances, such as in Japan, unauthorized mascot look-alikes can occasionally disrupt events by attempting to steal the spotlight.
As the owner of a mascot, you can modify or adjust every aspect of the character, particularly when your target audience’s demographics and sociographic preferences change. Unlike humans, mascots are carefully orchestrated and do not age, like Wendy’s mascot with her recognizable red pigtails and freckles. Even after 53 years, she remains forever nine years old. There was only one occasion when she temporarily transformed from a redhead to a greyhead in Canada to support the fight against age discrimination. An incident sparked a conversation about sexism and ageism in the media when a renowned news anchor, Lisa LaFlamme, embraced her natural grey hair and was terminated after 35 years of service.
The primary purpose of mascot branding is to infuse the brand with human qualities by associating them with a symbolic character that reinforces the brand’s image and delivers promises customers can resonate with. When executed effectively, a mascot can establish a memorable and distinct brand identity that separates your brand. In addition, a mascot can be the most straightforward and swiftest way to differentiate your product and service in a world inundated with countless brand messages and images.
Leverage Branding Mascots for Profitable Growth
According to a recent whitepaper by The Moving Picture Company (MPC), published in late 2021, incorporating a character-driven approach in long-term campaigns can lead to an average Market Share Gain increase of 41 percent, compared to 29.7 percent for campaigns that do not feature a character. [ii] Additionally, brand campaigns with mascots yield an eight percent boost in profit gains and attract nearly nine percent more new customers. [iii] A 2018 study also revealed that mascot branding advertising campaigns generated an eight percent higher share of voice compared to campaigns without mascots.[iv]
Interestingly, despite these compelling advantages, the utilization of mascots in branding has witnessed a decline of 30 percent over the past three decades. Currently, only four percent of brands in the United States employ mascots. This presents a significant opportunity for brands to capitalize on if they aim to enhance profitability, increase their share of voice, and foster deeper emotional connections with customers.
The Enduring Appeal of Mascots
Mascots hold a special place in our hearts for multiple reasons beyond serving as the face and personality of a brand. Firstly, they possess an inherent charm, like babies or pets, eliciting feelings of protectiveness, playfulness, and simplicity. Their primary objective is to capture your attention and, ideally, win your affection. Secondly, they can be designed to be attractive, funny, charming, and endearing, bringing joy, laughter, and excitement to audiences. Their playful and lively nature is captivating and enjoyable to watch or interact with. Lastly, their personalities and actions evoke emotional resonance, creating feelings of affection and fondness.
Due to their human-like characteristics, people are naturally drawn to mascots, developing stronger emotional connections compared to brands without mascots.
Unlike celebrities who demand fees for every appearance, mascots are managed by a team of brand stewards who meticulously oversee every word, expression, and action. They undergo extensive scrutiny and consumer testing to ensure their presence evokes the desired emotional response. Every aspect is carefully orchestrated, leaving nothing to chance.
By harnessing the power of mascot branding, brands can forge a distinctive and engaging identity that resonates with consumers on a deeper level, driving growth and profitability.
Unveiling the Fascinating History of Mascots
The term “mascot” finds its origins in the French word “Mascotte,” which translates to “good-luck charm.” So it’s no surprise that the first sighting of a physical mascot occurred at Yale’s football and baseball games in 1892, well before Harvard considered adopting a mascot. Before each Yale game, a purebred English bulldog named Handsome Dan would proudly parade across the field. Since that momentous day, 18 different bulldogs have held the esteemed title of Yale’s mascot. [v] If you can visit Yale’s Payne Whitney Gymnasium, you can see the original stuffed Handsome Dan standing guard in a protective glass case.
In sports teams, many initially relied on real animals as mascots, symbolizing the team’s name, such as Grizzlies, Hawks, Bulls, Wildcats, and more. However, the logistics of having a live bear caged at a football game proved unsustainable, prompting a swift shift to humans donning elaborate furry costumes.
Before Handsome Dan made his mark on the sports field, a human mascot debuted 1877 on a Quaker Oats cereal package. The U.S. Patent Office registered the trademark as “a figure of a man in ‘Quaker garb.'” In the 17th century, George Fox initiated the Quaker Movement, also known as the Religious Society of Friends. This movement was not solely centered around religious beliefs but a way of life rooted in simplicity, respect, honesty, and integrity. Interestingly, the co-owners of Quaker Oats, Henry Seymour, and William Heston, were not Quakers themselves. Nonetheless, they chose the name and mascot image for its positive connotations, symbolizing good quality and ethical values—traits they wanted the Quaker Oats brand to embody. [vi] Even after nearly 150 years, this brand mascot has remained essentially unchanged.
One of the most controversial brand mascots was Aunt Jemima, associated with the Aunt Jemima pancake mix brand, which debuted in 1889. Aunt Jemima, a portrayal of a black southern woman dressed as a “mammy,” represents a character who worked in the kitchen of a white family. The mascot drew inspiration from a minstrel show featuring a song called “Old Aunt Jemima.” Nancy Green, a formerly enslaved person from Kentucky, portrayed the Aunt Jemima character from 1890 until 1923. Throughout history, the depiction of Aunt Jemima has faced criticism and protest from civil rights activists and the black community as a racist caricature of an enslaved black woman. After multiple alterations to the mascot’s image, the brand and mascot were ultimately retired in 2021, making way for the Pearl Milling Company.
Another iconic mascot emerged in 1898 with the creation of the Michelin Man by cartoonist Marius Rossillon for the Michelin tire company. This mascot featured a collection of white tires resembling a formidable snowman. In 1891, André and Edouard Michelin founded the company and revolutionized the tire industry by inventing removable pneumatic tires. Although the founders and subsequent CEOs have come and gone, the Michelin Man has endured and remains relevant today, spinning his way across the globe.
The rich history of mascots showcases their significance in branding and their ability to leave lasting impressions on audiences throughout the years.
The Power of Mascots: The Unstoppable Influence of Leo Burnett
The 1950s marked a pivotal moment in the history of mascots, primarily due to the influence of one individual: Leo Burnett. In 1935, during the Great Depression, Burnett fearlessly launched his advertising agency in Chicago. One of his early clients was the Minnesota Valley Canning Company, known for its canned peas—particularly their remarkable size. Despite their failed attempt to patent the “Green Giant pea,” they devised a backup plan and registered a Green Giant mascot who initially bore little resemblance to the character we know today. Although the mascot sported an angry caveman appearance, clad in an animal skin tunic and holding a few peas in a pod, the mascot transformed in 1935 when Leo Burnett took charge. As we recognize him today, the Jolly Green Giant emerged, and the company changed its name to the Green Giant Company to reflect the mascot’s resounding success.
Following this triumph, Leo Burnett redefined the troubled cigarette brand Marlboro. The brand was initially marketed as a cigarette for women due to its smooth taste but faced two unsuccessful launches. Finally, however, Burnett’s brilliance shone through when his agency repositioned Marlboro as a masculine cigarette. The legendary moment occurred when Burnett, his creative head Draper Daniels (the real-life Mad Man), and Lee Stanley (one of the Marlboro mascots) brainstormed solutions while noticing an old Life magazine cover in the room. Dated August 22, 1949, the cover featured a rugged cowboy exuding masculinity with a cigarette between his lips. In his book The Ad Men and Women, author D. Morrison described how Burnett captured the essence of the “quintessential rugged male,” intertwining smoking with the strength of character and rugged individuality. [vii] From 1954 until 1999, numerous Marlboro men graced the brand’s advertisements, with California rancher Darrell Winfield serving as the primary model for almost two decades. Tragically, at least five Marlboro men have succumbed to smoking-related diseases.[viii] In 1999, the U.S. government prohibited tobacco companies from using humans or cartoons in tobacco advertising, bidding farewell to the last Marlboro Man as he rode off into the sunset.
Leo Burnett’s resounding success with mascots inspired him to recognize the winning formula for brand-building. He believed every brand harbored an “inherent drama,” stating, “I have learned that this so-called inherent drama exists in almost every product and service.” [ix] This “inherent drama” entailed linking archetypes, folklore, or symbolism with a product or service in a profoundly relevant manner to consumers. For instance, transforming the Green Giant troll into a Paul Bunyan-like hero infused the can of peas with the symbolism of strength, confidence, and vitality. Author Stephen Fox noted, “The Giant struck a subconscious chord in the public mind, and the client rode him from regional obscurity to national prominence.”[x] Similarly, the iconic American cowboy became synonymous with the Marlboro Man, embodying the symbolism and spirit of independence, courage, self-reliance, and individualist freedom—all symbolic of the American dream sans the smoke. It was the perfect embodiment of inherent drama.
Leo Burnett’s reign as the king of mascots forever transformed the world of branding, establishing mascots as powerful tools for connecting with consumers on a deep and symbolic level.
Animal Magic: Harnessing the Power of Mascot Critters
Discover the fascinating world of mascot critters and their profound impact on brand loyalty. A groundbreaking U.K. research study revealed that fifteen percent of individuals hold their pets dearer than their partners, showcasing the extraordinary bond between humans and animals. Renowned expert Dr. Ann Berger asserts that this connection is deeply rooted in our evolutionary history, yielding an incomparable influence.
Delving into the annals of time, we unearth the origins of this bond, dating back 15,000 to 30,000 years ago, with the discovery of a buried Bonn-Ober Kassel dog alongside two humans. Animals have continuously played pivotal roles in cultures, mythology, and religious narratives, leaving an indelible mark on our collective consciousness. We owe a debt of gratitude to National Geographic publications and enchanting Disney movies, which have accentuated various animal companions’ unique traits and endearing characteristics.
Recognizing the magnetic allure of animals, visionary Walt Disney harnessed their appeal to captivate audiences worldwide. His endearing creation, Mickey Mouse, swiftly became synonymous with the Disney brand, catapulting Disney into unprecedented fame and amassing a staggering fortune exceeding $5 billion with one mouse. Walt’s relentless pursuit of realism compelled animators and technology to push boundaries, infusing animated animal characters with human-like facial expressions, movements, and emotions. In her illuminating article on Disney movies and anthropomorphism, Charlotte Olsen astutely observes that humans often empathize more deeply with animals than with their own kind.[xi] From the iconic duo of Mickey and Minnie Mouse to the lovable Donald and Daisy Duck and the hilarious Goofy and Mickey’s faithful pet dog Pluto, these anthropomorphic mascots have transcended time and become enduring symbols of the Disney empire. Their enchanting presence graces countless movies, T.V. shows, merchandise, and enthralling theme park attractions, forging a multi-billion-dollar entertainment colossus.
Animal mascot branding has also been instrumental in propelling cereal giants to the summit of the breakfast cereal market. Cast your gaze upon the cereal aisle, and you’ll encounter Cornelius Rooster proudly adorning Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Tony the Tiger roaring with excitement on Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, Toucan Sam flaunting his vibrant plumage on Froot Loops, and the endearing BuzzBee buzzing around Honey Nut Cheerios. These beloved anthropomorphic characters have become the embodiment of these brands, their image etched onto millions of cereal boxes.
The global breakfast cereal market is projected to skyrocket to a staggering $108 billion by 2030, with Kellogg’s and General Mills commanding nearly 60 percent of the market share. [xii] [xiii] So how did these endearing animal mascots make their way onto the hearts and breakfast tables of millions?
Enter Leo Burnett, a legendary figure in the world of advertising. In 1949, Burnett’s creative brilliance enticed the cereal behemoth Kellogg’s to his agency, where he orchestrated the creation of several iconic mascot brands:
- Tony the Tiger, the exuberant ambassador of Frosted Flakes, whose resounding catchphrase “They’re Gr-r-great!” has become as iconic and enduring as “Got Milk,” “Just Do It,” and “Finger-Lickin’ Good.”
- Toucan Sam, the charismatic avian representative of Froot Loops, is renowned for his oversized beak, vibrant plumage, and infectious command, “Follow your nose! It always knows!”
While animal mascots have encountered occasional controversies and ethical concerns regarding animal mistreatment, negative stereotypes, and exploitation, the risks associated with their use pale compared to those posed by human mascots, like all brand symbols, it is imperative to comprehend the profound connection forged between the mascot and consumer based on perceptions, cultural identity, and emotional responses.
The goal is always to build a positive relationship and brand loyalty. For more on animal mascots, click here.
The Journey of Ronald McDonald: From Clown to Beloved Mascot
The story of Ronald McDonald, the world’s most famous clown, showcases the power of human mascots in branding. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology revealed that human mascots excel in promoting products that require cognitive processing, such as insurance or financial services. On the other hand, animal mascots are more effective for emotional and experiential products like food and entertainment. However, this rule doesn’t always apply to clowns.
Ronald McDonald’s journey began with Chef Speedee, McDonald’s first mascot symbolizing fast service. However, market research showed that people associated McDonald’s more with the golden arches than with Speedee. It was then that a local clown named Willard Scott donned a red and yellow striped costume and became the new face of McDonald’s. With his infectious energy, Ronald quickly gained popularity through local T.V. ad campaigns.
Recognizing Ronald’s success, the CEO of McDonald’s decided to promote him nationally in the mid-60s. Ronald made his national debut during Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with a makeover, signature red hair, and a big smile. After that, he became a regular on NBC’s and CBS’s Saturday morning cartoon line-ups, reaching millions of children. Within a short time, Ronald boosted sales by 50 percent, and over 97 percent of American children recognized him, making him as famous as the jolly old man in red.[xiv] [xv]
In the 1970s, as Baby Boomers became a significant consumer base, McDonald’s targeted children directly. Ronald became their spokesperson, aiming to influence kids to persuade their parents to visit McDonald’s as the “fun eating” place. Over time, Ronald evolved from a burger-selling character to a trusted friend and the philanthropic face of Ronald McDonald Houses and Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities.
McDonald’s approached Ronald’s representation with the same precision they applied to their food experience. They standardized his personality across different actors playing Ronald McDonald and provided a detailed manual for creating the perfect happy clown face. Ronald appeared at various events, including Ringling Brothers performances, schools, hospitals, and store grand openings. Licensed products extended Ronald’s magic, from dolls to clothing lines and playsets.
McDonald’s introduced a cast of characters called McDonaldland in the 1970s to prevent Ronald from becoming a passing trend. These commercials featured Mayor McCheese, Big Mac, Captain Crook, and the mischievous duo Grimace and Hamburglar. Each advertisement showcased Ronald as the hero, solving problems and helping his friends. These stories transitioned from fantasy to the real world of McDonald’s, where Ronald shared lunch with real children. He wasn’t just a funny clown but a multi-dimensional character who was self-aware, caring, and always did the right thing.
What set Ronald apart from other mascots was his relatability. Children saw him as a real person, albeit one with magical qualities, transcending the boundaries of being a cartoon or fabricated mascot. Ronald McDonald’s personal connection with children made him a valuable marketing tool for McDonald’s, providing unique one-on-one experiences that T.V., radio, or print ads couldn’t replicate.
In summary, Ronald McDonald’s journey from clown to beloved mascot exemplifies the effectiveness of human mascots in marketing strategies. By evolving from a mere marketing gimmick to a trusted friend and philanthropic figure, Ronald McDonald became an iconic symbol for McDonald’s and a beloved character in the hearts of millions of children worldwide.
“Ronald McDonald truly is one of our most valuable marketing tools in what no T.V. spot, radio spot or newspaper ad can do,” stated McDonald’s in 1980, “that is, share a personal, one-on-one experience with a child.”[xvi]
Harnessing Object Mascots: Elevating Branding with Character
Object mascot branding has the incredible ability to bring life and personality to various products. By adding eyes, a nose, and a mouth, these objects can captivate consumers and become successful mascots. In addition, this approach is a fantastic way to highlight a product’s uniqueness or category, as demonstrated by iconic mascots like the Pillsbury Doughboy, the Kool-Aid Man, and even the infamous Clippy.
The Pillsbury Doughboy, made of the same dough found in their baking products, is a prime example of a lovable mascot that embodies freshness, warmth, and homemade goodness. The Doughboy has become synonymous with Pillsbury’s brand image with his iconic chef’s hat and scarf, giggly voice, and playful personality. The memorable commercials featuring a finger poking his belly to demonstrate freshness and his infectious giggle have significantly contributed to Pillsbury’s remarkable sales growth of tenfold in thirty years—from $81 million to $840 million.[xvii]
In 1975, the Kool-Aid Man burst onto the scene, instantly captivating kids with his energetic and irreverent antics. Breaking through walls like a wrecking ball and exclaiming his famous catchphrase, “Oh, Yeaahh!” the Kool-Aid Man became a beloved mascot and helped propel Kool-Aid to a top spot in the soft drink category. His popularity extended to comic books and video games, solidifying his cultural impact.
However, not all mascots enjoy the same success. Clippy, the paper clip assistant introduced by Microsoft in 1996, is an example of a mascot that failed to resonate with its audience. While initially intended to assist users in navigating the complexities of word processing, Clippy quickly became an annoyance and an invasion of privacy. The character’s lack of likability, compounded by its intrusive behavior, led to its eventual decline and removal from Microsoft Office products.[xviii]
These examples highlight the importance of defining a mascot’s personality, values, attributes, and essence in alignment with the brand. A mascot should be likable and serve as a positive representation of the brand’s character and message. The Pillsbury Doughboy and the Kool-Aid Man successfully personified their respective brands’ qualities and resonated with consumers, increasing sales and brand recognition.
In summary, object mascots have the power to enhance branding efforts by infusing products with personality. Companies can create memorable and impactful connections with consumers by carefully crafting mascots that embody the brand’s values and resonate with the target audience.
The Magic of Children and Mascots: Building Lasting Connections
From the moment a child enters the world, they embark on a remarkable journey of discovery and learning. Children can forge deep emotional connections with mascots even before they can decipher words on a page.[xix] [xx] These iconic figures effortlessly capture their imagination and foster a sense of wonder, empowering them to remember and associate products in truly extraordinary ways.
For instance, I witnessed the enchanting encounter with my own eyes. Ronald McDonald, the charismatic ambassador of the golden arches, beckoned them with his magnetic charm as my little ones sat in their car seats. Without any adult intervention, my daughters eagerly pointed and pleaded for a detour to McDonald’s. In the words of researcher Kathleen Toerpe, “Ronald McDonald, like a modern-day Pied Piper, skillfully lured children back for more.”[xxi]
It comes as no surprise that among the top ten breakfast cereal brands favored by children, a striking trend emerges. A staggering nine out of ten brands, including Kellogg’s, General Mills, and Post Holdings, skillfully weave captivating characters and mascots into their marketing strategies. These delightful companions greet children each morning as they devour their cereal, frequently accompanied by their favorite cartoons. Moreover, the boundaries between beloved animated characters and brand mascots blur effortlessly as companies often join forces with renowned comics or secure licensing agreements to promote their products.
In this captivating realm where dreams and reality converge, these relationships between children and mascots are forged. The breakfast table becomes an arena of wonder and excitement, where special characters come alive, igniting the imagination and weaving delightful tales that captivate young hearts. These magical connections entertain, engage, and leave an indelible imprint on a child’s memory, ensuring that they carry the warmth and familiarity of these mascots throughout their lives.
In the world of childhood experiences, mascots play a significant role that goes beyond mere entertainment. They navigate the uncharted realm of emotions, forging powerful bonds beyond advertising tactics and brand promises. Through their charismatic presence, mascots inspire loyalty, trust, and a sense of belonging in the hearts of impressionable young minds. Each day, as the sun rises, children embark on a joyous adventure accompanied by their animated allies, creating a tapestry of shared memories and unbreakable connections. The enchanting dance between children and mascots continues to shape the lives of generations, leaving an enduring legacy of laughter, wonder, and endless possibilities.
The Impact and Business of Sports Mascots
Sports teams across various professional leagues have embraced the tradition of having vibrant and unforgettable mascots embodying their respective organizations’ essence. While players and coaches may come and go, the mascot remains a steadfast symbol, serving as the chief ambassador both on and off the field. Their roles are multifaceted, encompassing tasks such as leading cheers, acting as a lucky charm, driving merchandise sales, providing entertainment, and participating in philanthropic endeavors. These fundamental elements have permeated professional leagues and thousands of high schools, colleges, minor clubs, and even prestigious global events like the Winter and Summer Olympics.
Sports mascot branding has evolved into a thriving business. Consider the example of the Philadelphia baseball team, the Phillies, whose mascot, the beloved Phanatic, has achieved remarkable recognition across the sporting world. Phanatic-themed merchandise alone generates a staggering ten percent of all retail sales at the team’s ballpark store, surpassing the sales of any individual player’s merchandise.[xxii] In the realm of NBA mascots, Rocky the Mountain Lion, representing the Denver Nuggets, holds the title of the highest-paid mascot, earning an impressive annual salary exceeding $600,000.[xxiii] A one-hour appearance by Rocky can cost $750, while a 30-minute visit to a birthday party comes with a price tag of $400, excluding any additional birthday gifts.
1963 marked a significant milestone in the history of sports mascots, as Mr. Met debuted as the first human mascot on a baseball field, representing the New York Mets. While his design may not be the most innovative, featuring a giant baseball for a head, Mr. Met has become an iconic figure in the sports world, gaining widespread recognition. He even became the first mascot to be immortalized as a bobblehead doll. Over time, Mr. Met has found love and companionship, marrying Mrs. Met, and together they have become endearing symbols of the team.
However, it is worth noting that in recent years, many teams have engaged in critical self-reflection regarding their brand names and mascots, particularly in light of concerns surrounding racial and gender bias. As a result, several teams have made conscious decisions to shed references and connotations that perpetuate implicit stereotypes related to Native Americans. This signifies a progressive shift towards fostering inclusivity and cultural sensitivity within the sports industry.
Sports mascots occupy a vital position in the realm of athletics, embodying the spirit and values of their respective teams. They are more than just costumed characters; they are the heart and soul of fan engagement, merchandise sales, and community involvement. As teams evolve and adapt to the changing landscape of societal expectations, mascots will undoubtedly play a significant role in shaping the future of sports and fostering a sense of unity and inclusivity for fans worldwide.
The Future of Mascots: A Shift Towards Inclusivity and Uniqueness
The brand landscape has become overwhelmingly crowded in a world where brands strive to embody human traits, and individuals strive to present themselves as brands. As a result, we find ourselves immersed in a realm of brand saturation. While using real human faces may seem like the most straightforward and optimal solution for brand representation, it comes with numerous limitations and risks. Real humans may not always adhere to brand specifications, character descriptions, and profiles nor consistently follow the script, especially when off-camera. Humans make mistakes, say and do the wrong things, and have good and bad days. They cannot conform to a brand archetype or dress the same daily. In addition, their appearance changes with their hair and character as they age.
Furthermore, humans are mortal, subject to the passage of time, while mascots remain eternal and unchanging. They faithfully adhere to brand guidelines and only adapt when trends dictate. Throughout history, mascots have outlived real individuals and proven unwavering commitment, never taking a sick day. They embody the enduring nature of iconic brands. Therefore, mascots are a permanent fixture and may even surpass avatars.
As society progresses towards diversity, equity, and inclusivity, brands must either lead the charge or be compelled to change. This involves evaluating their image, name, and mascot to ensure everyone can identify with and see themselves reflected in the brand. Significant strides have been made in brand name changes, such as the transformations of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben Rice. However, human mascots will always be limited by their inclusion based on ethnicity, race, and gender. In contrast, animals and objects carry no historical baggage or inherent biases. As vulnerable beings, we perceive their innocence and vulnerabilities as a robust foundation for building a genuine brand-customer relationship.
Ken Stewart, the creator of the Coca-Cola Polar Bears, remarked, “[Mascots] are not political or easily put into categories that might be offensive. So, we don’t assign them negative capabilities. They’re pure, they’re innocent, and that allows us to open up to them. We can empathize with them and build special relationships with them.”[xxiv] Mascots offer a blank canvas that allows brands to connect with consumers deeper without the risk of controversy or offense.
A report by a Cito research-based nonprofit organization, supported by renowned actor Geena Davis, revealed intriguing insights about mascots. Out of 1,096 retail mascots analyzed, animal mascots slightly outnumbered human mascots, with only 13 percent falling into the “neither” category.[xxv] The most significant product category featuring mascots was pet care (19 percent), followed by bakery and grocery products.[xxvi] Male mascots were overrepresented, outnumbering female mascots by a ratio of two to one, and they were seven times more likely to be depicted as funny. Of the mascots representing people of color (15 percent), more than two-thirds (65.6 percent) were portrayed through racial/ethnic stereotypes, while only 2.8 percent of white mascots faced the same issue.[xxvii]
As brands and mascots face increased scrutiny regarding gender, race, and stereotype biases, there will be a continued push to modify mascots and make them more inclusive. There will also be a growing inclination to create mascots based on gender-neutral animals and objects where sexual identity remains undefined.
Moving forward, we can anticipate the flourishing of relevant and distinctive mascots that help brands become more relatable as a natural replacement for unpredictable and vulnerable human representations. By embracing mascots that symbolize diversity, foster inclusivity, and reflect society’s evolving values, brands can forge stronger connections with their audiences. In addition, these mascots serve as iconic representatives, resonating with a broad spectrum of individuals in an ever-evolving world, ensuring a promising future for brand identity.
The Role of Mascots in Branding: Enhancing Differentiation and Engagement
While building a brand, it is essential to recognize that mascot branding alone should not take center stage. There are numerous other crucial elements to establish before incorporating a mascot into your brand strategy. In addition, relying solely on a brand mascot may not be sufficient to differentiate your brand effectively. Instead, it should align seamlessly with your overall brand strategy, values, and messaging while supporting other branding efforts. A comprehensive approach to branding, encompassing a well-designed brand mascot, strong brand positioning, a unique value proposition, and consistent brand communication, collectively contribute to successful brand differentiation in a fiercely competitive market.
Engaging the expertise of a professional designer or branding expert can prove advantageous, as they can ensure that your mascot harmoniously aligns with your overarching brand strategy and goals. By taking this approach, you can ensure that your mascot becomes an effective and meaningful representation of your brand, strengthening its impact on target audiences.
Mascots hold a special place in people’s hearts due to their ability to provide entertainment, forge relatable emotional connections, serve as powerful branding and marketing tools, evoke childhood nostalgia, and facilitate social interaction. The reasons for adoring mascots are multifaceted and can vary based on individual experiences, cultural context, and personal preferences. Incorporating a mascot into your branding strategy can help your brand stand out amidst a sea of look-alike competitors, capturing attention and leaving a lasting impression.
However, it is crucial to understand that while mascot branding can significantly attract attention, they should be viewed as a complementary element within a comprehensive branding framework. By strategically integrating a well-designed mascot that aligns with your brand’s identity and values, supported by a robust brand strategy, you can effectively enhance brand differentiation and create memorable experiences that resonate with your target audience.
Creating an Irresistible Mascot: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Appeal
The ultimate objective of mascot branding is to evoke love from customers and, in turn, transfer that affection to the brand. Utilizing babies or pets in advertisements has long been a successful strategy, tapping into consumers’ softer emotions. Similarly, a mascot should possess qualities of quirky, innocent, lovable, fun, and relatable. Neuroscientist Spencer Gerrol highlights that humans have an inherent tendency to assign motivations, intentions, and emotions to both animals and inanimate objects.[xxviii] Therefore, creating appropriate human-like characteristics in mascots is crucial to establish a deep connection between customers and the brand. While cuteness is not a prerequisite for a successful mascot, endearment plays a pivotal role.
I would have dismissed the idea of a desk lamp serving as a successful mascot. After all, there is nothing particularly endearing about a lamp. However, Pixar Animation Studios proved me wrong. They ingeniously anthropomorphized a desk lamp by focusing on its movement rather than adding eyes, a nose, or a mouth to make it appear more human. Through subtle yet captivating gestures, they made the lamp hop around like a one-legged person, scrunching down to jump and using the lamp light as its expressive “head,” displaying childlike wonderment in a new world. The lamp’s quick glances to ensure it wasn’t up to mischief added to its human-like charm. With these simple yet relatable actions, a lamp transformed into a beloved brand mascot, captivating moviegoers worldwide, unaffected by race, gender, or bias. The Pixar Lamp has become an iconic symbol of creativity, innovation, and excellence in the animation industry. It has appeared in numerous Pixar films, such as Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and Up, often in the form of a playful animation before the start of the movie.
While various studies have cautioned against making mascots too human, as it can create discomfort among viewers, others have found that the sweet spot lies in animating approximately 65 percent of human characteristics.[xxix] [xxx] Striking the right balance is essential to ensure the mascot’s appeal remains captivating and relatable without crossing the line into unease.
By carefully crafting a mascot branding with appropriate human-like traits infused with endearment and relatability, brands can tap into mascots’ emotional power. As a result, these beloved characters can forge deep connections, captivate audiences, and elevate the brand experience, making them indispensable asset in successful brand representation for many years.
 “A Rogue Mascot Causes Headaches for a Japanese City.” The New York Times, (2019). Accessed May 6, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/22/world/asia/japan-mascot-chiitan-otter.html.
[ii] “LBB and MPC Release Exciting New Research on the Advertising Value of Mascots & Characters.” Little Black Box (London), September 22, 2021. https://www.lbbonline.com/news/lbb-and-mpc-release-exciting-new-research-on-the-advertising-value-of-mascots-characters.
[v] “Handsome Dan: A 130-year-old Legacy.” YaleNews. Yale University, July 3, 2019. https://news.yale.edu/2019/07/03/handsome-dan-130-year-old-legacy.
[vi] “Quaker History.” Quaker Oats. Accessed May 6, 2023. https://www.quakeroats.com/about-quaker-oats/quaker-history.
[vii] Morrison, D. K. 1994. The Ad Men and Women−A Biographical Dictionary of Advertising. Westport: Greenwood Press.
[viii] “Marlboro Ad Man Eric Lawson Dies of Chronic Lung Disease.” The Guardian, November 10, 2019. TheGuardian.com.
[ix] “Leo Burnett.” Advertising Age (Chicago), June 1971.
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