Mascots Aren’t For Every Business
  • Post last modified:August 12, 2020
  • Post category:Mascots & Branding
  • Reading time:11 min(s) read

Brand mascots are memorable and highly recognizable. However, there are some niches in which you should be careful about how you use a mascot.

Here, we are going to see what businesses can most benefit from mascots and when it would be better to look for another branding strategy.

What exactly is a brand mascot?

Mascots, also called brand characters or avatars, serve as ambassadors of a company or a product. They can be humans, animals or objects. Mascots can be used as a part of the company’s logo or separately in various digital and print marketing materials.

Businesses that most benefit from mascots

For some businesses, mascots are almost an essential branding tool. Let’s explore some of them.

Food Companies and Mascots

What are the first five characters that come to your mind when you think about brands? I bet that at least half of them are in the food industry.

M&M’s Spokescandies, Tony the Tiger, Poppin’ Fresh, Julio Pringles, Mr. Peanut, Jolly Green Giant… Mascots have become a must-have in the food industry. Let’s see how from just a candy brand M&M’s became one of the most loved brands because of their mascots.

M&M’s mascots success story

The M&M’s Red and Yellow are probably among the first characters that come to your mind when you hear about brand characters. However, there was a time when M&M’s existed without their cute characters.

In the mid-90s, M&M’s had serious problems. They were losing their popularity. So, with the relatively small budget, they had at that moment, they hired an agency to revive the brand. The agency came up with a really simple but brilliant idea – to bring the candies to life.

M&M's spokescandies
M&M’s Spokescandies

In the beginning, there were only two characters – Red (plain chocolate) and Yellow (with a peanut). Eventually, they’ve created a whole squat of spokescandies. They even developed a personality for each one. Now every character has their own page on the M&M’s website. If you are curious you can check them out.

The spokescandies were more than successful!

Today there are five M&M’s World shops around the globe. A year ago, I visited the one in London, which is the largest candy store in the world – 35,000 square feet and spread over 4 floors.

I was surprised that only one of these floors is focused on real candies. Everything else is all about the characters – mugs, key holders, jewelry, clothing, bedding, a phone cabin, and a Mini Cooper. Yes, there’s even a real Mini Cooper.

M&M's characaters in Mini Cooper at the store in London
M&M’s Characters in London

None of this could’ve been possible without the characters.

Recently, Business Insider published an interview with Susan Credle, the creative director of the agency that created the characters. Susan shared that the characters became such celebrities that the company experimented with pulling them away from TV ads. But people immediately began asking where the characters went.

There are amazingly successful characters in the food industry. But is it possible to create a successful mascot in other industry? Do you need TV ads and a huge budget to make your character popular? What if you have a small startup, can you benefit from having a mascot?

If these questions are buzzing around your head, then I have a very interesting story to tell you. It’s from a completely different field – the tech industry.

Tech Companies and Mascots

Mascots are very popular in the tech world. Let’s see how one tech startup used a mascot to make their website popular.

How a tech startup used a mascot and got viral

As the founder of ReadMe tells the story of their mascot Owlbert, they knew that their niche (code documentation) is not one of the sexiest in the industry, that’s why they’ve decided to create an owl character to make the company look more attractive and personal.

In the beginning, they put their mascot only on the login page, on the top of the login box. When you hovered on the password field, the owl hid his eyes.

They were amazed at what happened next. Before launching the new login page, the website had around 1000 visits daily. And 48 hours after launching the new login page, they hit 77 652 visits!

Guys, that’s 77 652 visits on the most boring and non-informative page that has ever existed on a website – the login page.

I created Owlbert on a whim and all of a sudden, people were talking about our company.

Founder of ReadMe

After seeing the results they shared the story of Owlbert in their blog and even stated that every startup needs a mascot. Eventually, they’ve made some improvements on the Owlbert’s appearance. The screenshot below shows how their signup page looks today. But you can still see the old version on their blog.

Readme signup page
Signup page of www.readme.io

Now, you see that even putting your mascot somewhere on your website can make your brand famous. You don’t need an enormous budget or TV presence. All you need is your website and some creativity!

Digital Marketing and Mascots

Talking about the online world we cannot miss the vastly growing business of digital marketing.

Social media and content marketing gurus spring up like mushrooms nowadays. If you are in the niche you know what I’m talking about. The competition there is enormous.

Just like tech companies, in digital marketing mascots can really shine out. Why? There are three reasons:

  1. You build your brand mainly online which gives you endless possibilities how to use your brand character;
  2. The digital marketing business is more on the creative side, so you can freely use cartoons and fun characters in your content and it won’t harm your brand’s reputation.
  3. Because of the huge competition, you need something visual and highly recognizable to stand out. You can definitely achieve it with a mascot.

Also, if you have a blog or any kind of online course, you can use your character as a communicator between you and the audience. This way you can make your content more fun and conversational.

Financial Services and Mascots

Even though financial services is considered as more “serious” and not so creative field, mascots are popular there as well. Are we thinking the same? Yup, I’m talking about Geico. We all love Geico’s gecko, right? He’s cute, eye-catching and sometimes he shares some pretty interesting thoughts on social media.

Geico Gecko Mascot Social Media
Geico Gecko Social Media

Another example of a “serious” industry that uses mascots is health.

Health and Mascots

Mascots are used even in the health sector. A great example is Headspace.com. They have several cute characters you can see all over their website and videos. They are simple but catchy.

Headspace Mascots

Another example is the health insurance company, Oscar. They don’t have particular characters, but they use a lot of custom illustrations with characters on their website.

Oscar Custom Illustrations

Let’s summarize who should use mascots

Excluding the food industry, did you notice something in common between those industries? All of them, provide complex services or products that need explanation, the customers have to be educated on how and why to use the service.

This is the best scenario to use a mascot. You can use your character as someone who personally provides valuable information to your customers. This way your character becomes a communicator, not just an advertising tool.

Use your mascot as a communicator providing valuable information, not just as an advertizing tool.

Businesses that shouldn’t use mascots

Although mascots are versatile and can be adapted to almost every business, there are some niches in which mascots are not the best branding strategy.

Does your product meant to affect the customer’s physical appearance?

Here we are talking about cosmetics – shampoo, face creams, makeup, shaving creams, etc. If your business falls in this category than mascots are not the best strategy for you. Let’s see why.

When people see your website or ad, they look for justification that the product works. So if your product is a shampoo, people will focus on the hair of the model presenting your product. If they see a cartoon instead of a live model they’ll get no justification of how your product works.

Of course, we all know that the model didn’t wash her hair with this particular shampoo just before the footage. But unconsciously we still look for this justification. That’s why shampoo ads always look the same – light breeze gorgeously moving those shiny curls, on slow motion.

Cow GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

The same rule applies to fitness supplements (especially those for weight loss or building muscles). We need a real person.

So if your product is in this category, then you can use a mascot as part of your logo and make your brand more recognizable, but you’ll still need a real person to promote the product.

Can B2B companies use brand mascots?

Talking about marketing and branding the first question always is “And how does this apply to Business-to-Business (B2B) companies?”

It’s true that most of the examples we’ve discussed come from the Business-to-Client businesses. Using a mascot in B2C is much easier. But it doesn’t mean that B2B companies cannot benefit from mascots.

Traditionally, we see B2B companies as more “serious” and conservative in their marketing strategies, everything is focused on the rational advantages of the product/service. So, in some cases, it’s hard to image how would a mascot fit in the picture.

However, we’ve already discussed several sectors, where characters are widely used: tech companies, digital agencies, web design, social media, and content marketing;

If your business doesn’t fall within the groups mentioned above, please, share in the comments your business niche, so we can brainstorm if it is possible to use a mascot there.

In case you’ve already decided that you need a brand character: Keep in mind that every niche is different so it’s crucial to choose the right type of brand character for your business.

How to choose a mascot for my brand

A well-developed character, which is coherent with the brand archetype and their marketing strategy will always elevate the brand. To get more information on how to choose the perfect mascot for your brand, check out my post on how to Choose The Right Type Of Character For Your Brand.

How to use a brand character

If you know what kind of mascot you need, then you can jump to planning how to use your character. Having a plan beforehand on how to use you mascot will help the design process as well. This way you can also make a list of the poses you will need and adjust the plan according to your budget.

To get interesting ideas on how to use a brand character check out my post on How to Use a Mascot to Make Your Brand Go Viral.

Conclusion

Even though mascots are all around us, they are not for everyone.

So what businesses can really benefit from mascots? Mascots suit best to brands from the food industry, tech industry, insurance, health, financial services and digital marketing.

Mascots should be used more carefully for products that affect the client’s physical appearance like cosmetics and makeup. The reason is that people look for justification that your product works. This doesn’t mean that you cannot have a mascot, but you’ll still need a real person to promote your products.

In any case, it’s important to use your character to provide valuable information to your customers. This way your character becomes a communicator, not just an advertising tool.

I hope this post helped you to decide whether you need a mascot or not. I’d love to hear what’s your business. Do you think it’s appropriate to use a mascot in your business niche?

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Victoria Atanasova

Victoria is a mascot designer, a brand strategist, and a cognitive scientist. She helps brands stand out online by creating a distinctive and memorable visual identity.

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