Social media sites provide companies a viral entry to the consumer marketplace, as discussed in my previous blog on fandistribution. Although social media sites are a relatively new introduction the concept of brands using mascots has been around for years – the Michelin man dates back to the 1890s. This process really picked up pace in the 1950s and 60s for product based brands; this was the period when classic house hold mascots such as Tony the Tiger, Ronald McDonald and the Pillsbury Doughboy were born/created. Brand mascots tend to be usually very colourful and dynamic, making them easy to recognise, remember and identify with. Once the association is established, brand awareness will increase.
However times have changed since those ‘MadMen’ days of the 1960s when product based brands often had less than a minute window on a television commercial in order to develop their mascot’s character potential. With technological innovations nowadays, virtual services can easily create virtual brand mascots. Through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube brands have essentially allowed unlimited space and time to develop, integrate and evolve characters. The openness and the shared based nature of these digital platforms gives the character a much LOUDER voice and open the doors for a two way conversation with the consumer. As brands naturally exploit these platforms to develop a more integrated branded communications approach they often couple the viral online campaign with more traditional television and radio slots; this encourages watchers to want to engage and learn more online about their favourite mascots.
So what are the advantages of having a brand mascot? Many online services lack the ‘touchable’ feeling a product based brand enjoys. This digital character approach allows marketeers to provide a personified face and voice for their brands, bringing it much closer to the user’s heart. Ultimately this makes the brand much more accessible by humanising their products. Consumers would much rather interact online with a cute and cuddly character than they would with a faceless corporation.
This process seems to work remarkably well typically in the grey boring faceless industries such as insurance. Across the pond motor insurance company Progressive is currently seeing a significant impact within the social media buzz through their brand mascot Flo. The quirky sales rep debuted in the company’s television commercials in 2008. Recently she has been involved in YouTube videos and social games on Facebook. Her page was initially created by a fan, though when they realised that she was attracting more attention than the company itself they quickly took over the reins. Currently on Facebook, Progressive the company has 43,000 likes – Flo, on the other hand is pushing nearly 4 million. It seems in the case of Flo that clearly people would much rather interact with this endearing woman from the TV instead of a random grey suited exec from Progressive. When it comes to social media marketing techniques, this seems a great way to engage with customers and grow new business opportunities. Over in the UK insurers also seem to be following a similar pattern with variations of similar humorous and memorable mascots. Compare the Market uses a Meerkat to great comedy effect though Go Compare have chosen a slightly different route with the frankly annoying and abrasive operatic Gio Compare – you know who I’m talking about.
What this shows us is that Facebook consumers want to actively bond with the character rather than simply interacting through the more traditional company page pumping out corporate company and product news. The characters offer a softer way to sell a product, which is essential nowadays as the more savvy consumer doesn’t like blatant selling or promotion. Mascots are also the gift that keeps on giving, they never get in trouble with the law, don’t negotiate their fees and allow digital marketing techniques to spin out a potentially endless ‘timeline’ story that was simply not possible in the past.
It instils this process when you look directly at one of the principle forums for this new type of digital communication. Twitter itself uses its famous little blue bird “Larry” to great effect. Their strategy in my opinion goes beyond being simply cute and cuddly. Larry the little blue birdy is a central theme to Twitters overall global brand campaign, with his subtle silhouette on every website link, logo and re-tweet button. A little bird is cleverly much more appealing than a plain simple company logo and it also helps increase brand awareness.
But much like when meeting an influential movie or rock star, do brands run the risk of lessening their mascot’s carefully cultured mystique and disappointing fans by finally opening their mouths in a public forum? Never before has the personality of a character had to match with the much larger overall brand direction and identity.
Here at Alchemis we don’t have any brand mascots; we certainly have a few characters though and this creative approach allows us to do what we do successfully for the last 25 years. We rely upon effective communication and intelligent targeting in order to convey a message and work hard to win our clients new business.