How to choose the right type of mascot for your brand

Brand characters can boost your content marketing to a whole new level. But it’s crucial to choose the right one and implement it correctly in your content strategy.

We’ll dive deep into the consumer’s mind and explore some of the best examples of mascots and their use in content marketing.

You’ll learn how to choose the right character for your business.

What is a brand character and what to use it for?

Brand characters, also called mascots, serve as ambassadors of a company, product or a service. Thanks to the Internet and social media, mascots are gaining great popularity today. They can make your brand and content more attractive and engaging.

Fictional brand characters are like celebrities, they can boost your marketing and influence people. Interestingly, some even argue that fictional characters could be more influential than real life celebrities1

You can use your character on your website, as part of the illustrations on your blog and social media posts, in video content or any print marketing materials.

OK, it’s sounds great to have a mascot, but how to choose the right one? Let’s see the different options and what we have to choose from.

For some companies, it’s easy to choose the right one. Let’s say you are selling cat food. It would be odd to choose a camel for a mascot, right? But for other ones like tech companies the possibilities are endless.

So how do we choose the right one?

As a scientist, I always rely on facts and research. So let’s dive into the consumer’s mind and explore marketing and psychology research and find how to choose the best character for your company.

Cat Food Camel

Find out what’s the best mascot for your business

To get an idea of what’s the best mascot for your business check out the decision tree I’ve created for you, based on scientific research:

Choose MAscot Type for Your Brand Decision Tree

Did you find the type of character for your needs? You can jump directly on this specific type in the article:

Human Characters

Human characters are the most widely used mascots. An analysis of over 1150 mascots reveals that 21% of all mascots are human characters and it’s the largest category 2.

Human mascots can be based on a fictional character or a real person.

I. Real Person Character

Real person mascots are a good choice when your goal is to promote yourself. For instance, if you are a freelancer or a public speaker.

Examples: The well-known mascot of KFC represents the founder, Colonel Sanders. Captain Morgan is also based on a real person – Sir Henry Morgan, a 17th-century privateer of the Caribbean.

KFC logo with Colonel Sanders
Colonel Sanders
Captain Morgan mascot
Captain Morgan

II. Superheroes

The superhero is a good fit if you want to highlight a powerful feature of your product or service. For instance, Mr. Clean has the power to clean the floor fast and effective and Captain Aquafresh fights cavities.

Be careful, though, people are highly sensitive to superheroes. The superpower of the hero should be clear and easy to communicate to your audience.

Mr Clean Mascot
Mr. Clean
Captain Aquafresh

IV. Transforming objects into a human body

Characters made of objects could be very eye-catchy. They are a good choice for companies selling a specific product with a distinct shape. These companies have two options:

  • Transform the object itself as a mascot and make it alive, like the M&M’s Spokescandies
  • Use the product as a building element to create a living creature, like The Michelin Man (called Bibendum)

Curious fact: Have you ever wondered why Bibendum is made of white tires? Why isn’t he black? Well, actually, tires weren’t colored black until 1912, they were grey-white 3.

Michelin Man
Bibendum, The Michelin Man
M&M's spokescandies
M&M's Spokescandies

Animal Characters

The second largest category of mascots are the animal characters. There are several kinds of reasons why you would want to use an animal mascot.

Let’s start with the simplest one – when there is a direct relationship between your product and the animal, like the example with the cat food.

Direct relationship mascot – product

If your product / service has a direct relation to an animal, then this is the simplest choice for you. Here are two examples of such characters:

  • The Laughing Cow is a mascot of cheese products made of cow milk
  • The mischievous Felix cat – the mascot of the cat food products Felix owned by Purina
Felix Cat by Purina
Felix
The Laughing Cow
The Laughing Cow

However, there are much more interesting and smarter ways to use animal mascots. Put your lab coat on because we are going to talk about science.

Animal Mascots and the Science behind them

Animals are versatile and playful, but there is an interesting psychological explanation for their popularity.

It all begins with what’s known as anthropomorphism.

Anthropomorphism and animal characters

People have the urge to attribute human traits to animals, plants, even non-living objects. The scientific term for this behavior is anthropomorphism.

Why do we do this? The simple explanation is that we need to understand the world around us. We need to decipher the animals’ behavior and the only way to do this is by comparing the animals’ behavior to the only one we know – our own behavior.

Due to that funny urge, we seem to enjoy seeing animals that look and behave more like us. And so we feel them closer to us.

In fact, we don’t just enjoy them, we even worship them. There are very strong symbolic and religious roots 4. Every society has its animal symbols, the coat of arms of many countries include animals and many religious and mythological systems are based on half-animal-half-human gods.

Animal Archetypes

So animals are an important part of our life. That’s why we form archetypes for them, in other words, we create a list of things that we know for this animal kind in our brain. For instance, we know that dogs are playful, friendly and loyal; cats are graceful and independent. And every time you see a dog or a cat these qualities pop up automatically in your brain.

These archetypes are very powerful and subconsciously influence the way we see animals.

Animal Archetypes in Brand Mascots

Some companies use the archetype of an animal to promote the values of the company or features of their product 5.

Let’s take as an example the iconic car brand Jaguar. What associations come to your mind – power, speed, grace, beauty? This is exactly what Jaguar want you to see in their cars, but instead of saying it, they use a jaguar as a mascot and leave people to make the associations themselves.

Jaguar logo

Here are two more examples of animal archetypes used in mascots.

  • Tony the Tiger is the mascot of the breakfast cereal Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes
    Why a tiger? Tigers are vital, energetic and strong exactly as you should feel after you finish your cereal.
  • Duracell’s pink rabbit. You guess what Duracell wants you to think about…
Tony the Tiger mascot
Tony the Tiger
Duracell Bunny
Duracell Bunny

After we’ve discussed the science behind animal characters, it’s time for the creative aspect.

There is a third category of characters that are based on pure creativity. There’s no relationship between the product and the animal, nor any scientific reasons behind these characters. And yet they could be one of the most intriguing ones.

No visible relation between the brand and the mascot

Some characters don’t have a direct link, nor is their archetype transferrable to the brand. And yet, they are one of the most fascinating and intriguing characters!

Be warned though, they are also the trickiest type. Often it’s hard to promote such characters since the audience won’t get their meaning straight away. To make them work you should put more efforts into the mascot development.

Let’s see some examples.

Aleksandr Orlov

One of the greatest examples is Aleksandr Orlov, the mascot of comparethemeerkat.com, a comparison engine website.

A meerkat doesn’t seem to have any relation to a website for product comparison. The reason behind this unusual choice is the fact the the words “market” and “meerkat” sound and look similar. That’s how a website for comparing the market became Compare The Meerkat.

How did they manage to promote their mascot so well? By developing an entire fictional meerkat universe – Aleksandr has a rich and intriguing personality, he has a lot of friends, they live in a town called Meerkovo and each character has a job and a well-defined personality. In fact, Aleksandr is presented as the founder and CEO of the company.

Aleksandr Orlov
Aleksandr Orlov

Geico Gecko

The gecko mascot of the insurance company Geico doesn’t have a direct relationship with the services of the company. The reason for this choice is that Geico noticed that people misspell their brand writing GECKO instead of GEICO and so decided to use it in their marketing campaigns. That’s how the gecko Geico was born. In their campaigns, they rely on humor to promote their character.

Geico Gecko mascot
Geico Gecko

Objects as Characters

We’ve already mentioned object based characters, but they are so interesting that they deserve a separate category.

We can divide this category into two subcategories.

Objects as a building material

In the first case, the objects are simply used to build the body of the mascot, like the Michelin Man. The object is only a building material and it doesn’t bring any traits with it.

Anthropomorphized objects

In the second case, the object is brought to life itself like the M&M’s Spokescandies and Poppin’ Fresh, also known as the Pillsbury Doughboy.

Pillsbury Doughboy
Poppin' Fresh
M&M's spokescandies
M&M's Spokescandies

In this way, we create a character that becomes human-like while keeping the features and traits of the object. This gives you the freedom to mix both human and object traits. Now simply put the mascot in different human situations and make them funny and memorable.

A great example is the M&M’s commercial “Eating in bed”. In the video, a horrified woman is caught “cheating” by her husband. However, as it turns out, she is in the bed with the M&M’s Red character who doesn’t even suspect that he is going to be eaten.

M&M's Eating In Bed
M&M's "Eating In Bed" commercial

Milestones as Mascots

In the general case, the character is the product (like M&M’s). However, the object could also be related to a story behind your brand.

A great example is Luxo Jr., the lamp playing with a ball at the beginning of every Pixar’s movie.

The lamp is clearly not an object we associate with filmmaking. So why did they choose Luxo Jr.?

The lamp was the star in one of their very first projects – the short movie Luxo Jr. It was nominated for the Academy Award in 1987 and it’s one of the first triumphs of Pixar 6. So their first milestone became their mascot.

Luxo Jr.
Luxo Jr.

Other Important Factors when choosing a mascot

There are some additional factors that influence mascot choice and the trends in mascot design. Here are some of them.

The closer the better

People show sympathy for characters that are closer to them. Research shows that the most used types of mascots are things that are closer to us. This is why the most widely used characters are humans (21%). The next most popular ones are birds (19%) and domestic animals (16%). Followed by large (12%) and small (9%) wild animals. Finally, mythical and aquatic animals and insects7.

Geolocation Matters

Another important factor is geolocation. This one is somewhat related to the previous factor.

So when it comes to local businesses, location is a very important factor. If your business is located in Australia, then you better seriously consider a kangaroo mascot. However, if you are located in Alaska, a kangaroo would be a really odd choice.

Temporal Trends

The mascot trends could be influenced by movies and various other trends. For instance, in the 1960s and 1970s aliens were extremely popular due to the Star Wars mania, and dinosaurs were popular in the 1990s thanks to the Jurassic Park movies.

Technology, robots, and aliens

There is something that drastically changed the past 10 years – the role of technology in our lives. We live with a phone constantly in our hands. So technology gave birth to a new trend – anthropomorphized phones, laptops, etc.

More importantly, the advancements in artificial intelligence and robotics and the recent achievements in space exploration have led to a new trend and it’s continuously growing – robots and aliens. These characters are widely used even outside the technology and software fields.

Conclusion

Brand characters can boost your content marketing to a whole new level, but choosing the right one and implementing it right in your content strategy could be tricky. We’ve explored the different types of brand characters and some of the main factors to consider when you are choosing a mascot for your brand.

I hope that by now you have a better idea of what type of character you need. The only step left is to get one and make it part of your marketing strategy.

Need a mascot?

We can help you from the concept, through the design, to promoting your mascot online!

Mascot Design Visual Content Space
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Victoria Atanasova Avatar Visual Content Space

About the author

Victoria is a cognitive psychologist and illustrator. She is helping content creators to build powerful visual strategies using insights about the human mind.

Notes

  1. Malik, Garima, and Abhinav Guptha. “Impact of celebrity endorsements and brand mascots on consumer buying behavior.” Journal of Global Marketing 27.2 (2014): 128-143.
  2. Brown, Stephen. “Where the wild brands are: Some thoughts on anthropomorphic marketing.The Marketing Review 10.3 (2010): 209-224.
  3. MICHELIN Guide. (2018). 8 Surprising Facts About the Michelin Man. [online] Available at: https://guide.michelin.com/us/washington-dc/features/8-surprising-facts-about-the-michelin-man/news [Accessed 26 Sep. 2018]
  4. Lloyd, Stephen, and Arch G. Woodside. “Animals, archetypes, and advertising (A3): The theory and the practice of customer brand symbolism.” Journal of Marketing Management 29.1-2 (2013): 5-25.
  5. Lloyd, Stephen, and Arch G. Woodside. “Animals, archetypes, and advertising (A3): The theory and the practice of customer brand symbolism.” Journal of Marketing Management 29.1-2 (2013): 5-25.
  6. Catmull, E. (2014). Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. Bantam Press
  7. Brown, Stephen. “Where the wild brands are: Some thoughts on anthropomorphic marketing.The Marketing Review 10.3 (2010): 209-224.

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