How some of the world’s most enduring mascots came to be

Naaz Gulabi

(Read Part 1 of our series on mascots here)

From Cinderella to Buzz Lightyear, Donald Duck to Lightning McQueen, Disney has been the birthplace of some of the world’s most loved animated characters of all time. However, even after all these years, the character we associate most with Disney is Mickey Mouse. This 2’3” powerhouse has been trudging along valiantly since the past 87 years – having fun, making mistakes, yet moving ahead (like most of us, isn’t it?). These human attributes have enabled Mickey Mouse gain a certain timeless appeal, and connect with audiences beyond the boundaries of language, region & culture.

Like Disney, companies have, for long, leveraged anthropomorphic characters as mascots. Mascots reflect attributes that personify the brand, helping audiences ‘connect’ better with a brand – boosting sales, recognition and popularity. Here are five companies that got their mascots just right.

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  1. The Amul Girl (Amul): Clad in a polka-dot dress with an unmissable matching bow, this blue-haired moppet has appeared on more than 4,000 hoardings till date (one of the longest running campaigns ever, globally). In 1966, Eustace Fernandes and Sylvester daCunha brought this utterly butterly bundle of joy into our lives as a rival to the Polson butter girl. The idea behind choosing a little girl was that she could “worm her way into a housewife’s heart” – and with perfectly timed word-play, humour and sarcasm, she sure did! Today, almost fifty years ‘young’, she continues to fascinate us, and has enabled Amul to ‘spread’ across India as a warm, friendly brand that has a mind of its own. Consistency is the key ingredient that has turned this moppet into a legacy, as she continues being fostered (with utmost liberty from Amul) by daCunha Communications. The brand, despite its whopping growth, reportedly never exceeds its advertising budget beyond 1% of revenues – a rarity in the B2C space. GCMMF MD, R S Sodhi, suggests creative agencies to establish “stability” at both ends (client and agency) in order to “create advertisements that are consistent”.
  2. bibendum poster__375x590_11decBibendum (Michelin)Gazing at a pile of tires on a Michelin stand at the Lyon Universal Exposition 1894, Edward Michelin stated to his brother André that “with arms and legs it would make a man”. This inadvertent remark ended up personifying the product, and creating one of the world’s first mascots. French cartoonist Marius Rossillon drew the Michelin Man in 1898 – a figure that has been improved upon, but sustained nevertheless, for over 117 years. Interestingly, early Bibendum was shown as a heavy cigar smoker and champagne-drinker (supposedly to appeal to the car-affording audience) – something that would mean brand hara-kiri in today’s politically correct times. Today, he has ‘rolled into’ a dynamic, cute (Casper look-alike) figure of tires, known and loved all over the world.
  3. Poppin’ Fresh (Pillsbury): With a belly that tempts you to land a poke, the first words of this 8 3/4? tall bundle of kneaded dough were “Hi! I’m Poppin’ Fresh, the Pillsbury Doughboy.” The blue-eyed mascot arrived in 1965 wearing a chef’s cap (bearing the Pillsbury logo), a white neckerchief and an unforgettable giggle. Since its pricey inception (costing nearly $16,000 in those days), the mascot reportedly earned 87% recognition in just three years. But, how did he come to be? While opening a can of Pillsbury’s refrigerated dough, mascot creator Rudy Perz envisioned this little chubby character popping out of it, and put his imagination to action. His multiple avatars appeal to the brand’s audience while the fluffy-factor adds a mass appeal.
  4. duracell poster_375x297_11decDuracell Rabbit / Energizer Bunny: In 1973, Duracell drummed the longevity of its batteries through a commercial using a group of pink, fluffy, battery-powered rabbits in a drumming competition. The Duracell rabbit out-drummed all the zinc carbon battery rabbits and emerged the star. This glory, however, lasted only till 1989, when rival Energizer introduced its Bunny through a play-off with the Duracell rabbits. Wearing cool sunglasses and beating a huge bass-drum, the Energizer Bunny showed off his endurance in a humorous, youthful manner. Originally intended to be a mere parody, the Energizer Bunny hopped on to become the brand’s mascot. Initially, it was Duracell who held the trademark for the use of its rabbit in the U.S. and other countries. For some unfathomable reason, the company failed to renew its trademark, Energizer latched on to the opportunity, and trademarked a new “battery bunny” for its marketing across America. Starring in over 100 commercials, the Energizer Bunny is one of the most well-known bunnies in ads worldwide, while the Duracell rabbit remains confined to Europe and other countries.
  5. M&M’s Spokescandy (M&M’s): Launched in 1941, M&M’s (owned by Mars, Inc.) achieved immediate success, riding on the back of increased demand for candies during World War II. It became a rage with the U.S. Army, as it “melts in your mouth, not in your hand.” – a perfect way to have chocolates in the most adverse climatic conditions. Since then, the world’s best-selling chocolate candy has been all round the world, and even to space. In 1954, Mr. Plain and Mr. Peanut made their first TV appearance. Today, the brand has four more characters as part of its mascot league. M&M’s mascots speak to the audience directly and give them the option of deciding who they can relate with (and relish) the most.

What these brands did well was to:

  • Conceptualize a mascot in sync with people’s existing opinion about the company/brand
  • Give the mascot certain human traits/quirks that allowed people to see them as real people and not just animated figures
  • Stay consistent with the mascot (resisting the urge to ‘do something new’), yet contemporize the mascot with changing times

Mascots can prove to be a great way for brands to establish a stronger connect, endear themselves to customers and differentiate themselves from competition. A well-crafted mascot can take the brand along for years together, help reduce advertising spends, and generate excellent word-of-mouth (a huge plus in the days of social media).

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