Last Updated May 31, 2011 12:01 AM EDT
Unlike spokespeople that age, die, have affairs and do other things that can damage your brand, mascots are ageless brand representatives that help your market targets develop a closer relationship with your company and products. They do not ask for raises, take vacations, get sick, or create other problems. In fact, mascots can actually make money for their companies when they are sold as collectibles, knick-knacks, or toys.
Case in point: AFLAC. The company began in 1955 as a small family insurance company in Columbus, Georgia. The name is an acronym for American Family Life Assurance Company. It does not roll off the tongue easily or make a very pleasing sound. As a result, people in their target audience were having trouble remembering the name. That is not good for business or for creating a positive word-of-mouth pyramid. People have to be able to remember the name to buy the product and tell others about it.
To solve this problem, they decided to experiment using a duck as a mascot since the brand name sounds like the "quack quack" sound a duck makes. Upon investing in advertising to promote the duck and the business, the result has been phenomenal with name recognition and profits soaring.
In fact, name recognition has been at 91% - higher than big insurance companies MetLife or Cigna and in the same ballpark as behemoths McDonald's and Coca Cola. The Aflac duck is its own cost center and all proceeds from the sale of merchandise go to the AFLAC Cancer Center at Children's Hospital in Atlanta.
GEICO, also an acronym for Government Employees Insurance Company, began using the Gecko in TV commercials in 2000. As with AFLAC, the spokescreature was created to get members of the target audience to remember the name of the company. It is used in combination with the slogan repeated in each TV commercial, "15-minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance." It worked. In the first two years, subscribers jumped 16.7% and Warren Buffet CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, which owns GEICO, has said that he loves the commercials. Being a shrewd businessman, the main reason for his love is the Gecko commercials have brought in a lot more business.
The Energizer Bunny was introduced in 1989 TV commercials as the mascot of Energizer Holdings Inc. And, it has kept going and going ever since. It does a great job of positioning Energizer batteries as longer lasting - perhaps the most important benefit to battery consumers. Energizer attributed 7% of its sales rise in 1992 to the bunny.
Snap, Crackle, and Pop are mascots created to reinforce the sound Kellogg's Rice Krispies cereal makes in milk. The benefits these mascots reinforce are freshness and crispiness. They also help to give identity to the cereal that targets young kids. M&Ms mascots, likewise, were invented to show the unique benefit that the individual candies "melt in your mouth not in your hands" per their slogan.
While many companies do not break out specific ROI data, the product brands represented by these mascots have been very successful, in no small part, due to the introduction of these spokescreatures.
What kind of mascots tend to be the most successful
Mascots work together with such other branding elements as names, logos, slogans, and jingles to increase the success of a product or company brand. The ones that tend to be most successful are the ones that have:
- Memorable Names: Jack-in-the Box; M&Ms; Budweiser Frogs
- Represent a clear, Identifiable benefit: Mr. Clean; Speedy (Alka Seltzer); Brawny (paper towels); Poppin' Fresh; Mrs. Butterworth
- Embody the product. Michelin Man; Elsie the Cow; Dancing raisins
- A specific target audience. Tony the Tiger (they're Grrreat!); Trix rabbit (Trix are for kids)
- Create a relationship. Manny, Moe, and Jack (Pep Boys); Budweiser Clydesdales
How might you employ mascots in the marketing of your company or products?
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Ira Kalb is president of Kalb & Associates, an international consulting and training firm, and professor of marketing at the Marshall School of Business at University of Southern California (USC). Follow him on Twitter.
image courtesy of flickr user Gerald Yuvallos