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The Value (and Risk) of a Brand Mascot

While this article about a Sheriff’s office photoshopping a picture of a cat into their weather updates on Facebook may seem silly, it goes far to illustrate the value of a brand mascot. But there is another side to visual brand representation that may be not as positive.

When Cecil County Sheriff’s Office starting inserting #weatherkitty into their social media posts, fan response increased greatly.

Likewise, when Burger King introduced the Subservient Chicken back in 2005, everyone was abuzz. And who doesn’t immediately recognize Tony the Tiger as the face of Frosted Flakes? Generally, brand mascots help to increase brand awareness and encourage a natural affinity between consumers and their favorite products. But is this always a good thing?

There are many positives to the age-old, animated brand mascot. Among them, the aforementioned increase in brand recognition, the creation of a heartfelt attachment and the possibility of an “ownable” character that can be used for licensing and promotions.

Mascots are brand representatives and when well-associated, seamlessly call to mind the brand in question. The Pillsbury Doughboy appears to be made of dough and quickly conjures up thoughts of warm baked goods. Effective mascots also help people relate and connect to the brand on an emotional level. The Snuggle bear is a great example of a soft and fuzzy character that people literally want to… snuggle!

Finally, mascots can serve as a hook upon which to build a successful licensing business. Coca-Cola’s polar bears are featured on a substantial product line that extends a soda brand into areas that normally wouldn’t make any sense at all. For example, how many of you are pining for a cola-inspired plush? Probably not too many. 

But some detractors feel that giving an animated, relatable face to some products is actually detrimental. For example, is it OK for McDonald’s to use a fun and relatable clown to entice kids into eating fast food when childhood obesity is such a concern? And in 1997, R.J. Reynolds effectively “killed” Joe Camel as anti-smoking activists argued that the dromedary had too much kid-appeal, making him harmful to the youth of America.

So, who is right? Are animated mascots a good idea or a bad one? And where do we draw the line between impactful marketing and a hazard to the public’s well-being?

Maria Bertrand