Reviving love: Why brands should resurrect mascots

Industry watchers opine that given the increasing scrutiny of these times, opting for mascots can be a good strategy

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Updated: Apr 12, 2021 8:51 AM

Back in 1966, a little girl in a polka dotted dress was conceptualized by Sylvester DaCunha when India was just taking baby steps in creative advertising. Soon, the utterly-butterly delicious girl won over not only the ad-world but an entire nation who now considers her their very own. In the world of in-the-face celebrity advertising, she still stands out due to her witty punch-lines and old-world charm. Apart from this, other brand mascots that have been a roaring rage are Air India’s Maharaja, Asian Paint’s Gattu and the Vodafone Zoozoo, among others.


What’s old is new again

There’s something curiously nostalgic, reassuring, and even heartwarming about brand mascots. At a time when increased social media celebrity and brand trolling has become the name of the game, it's interesting to see brands world-over reviving their mascots. Refreshed and ready to prance, online card and gifting site Moonpig was the latest one to revive its mascot after a four-year hiatus. Michelin too has injected new life into its marshmallow-looking mascot, Michelin Man by launching a brand campaign around it. Industry watchers weigh on why it's a good strategy considering the highly-scrutinized world we are in today.

David Appasamy, Head-Brand & Strategy, Social Beat, notes that brands are beginning to revive brand mascots for good reasons. “A brand mascot provides instant differentiation and instant unique identification. Celebrities don't enable that because they are open to being brand ambassadors for multiple brands in different categories with the result that people remember the celebrity and not the brand. Moreover, a brand mascot's personality, values and image are shaped and managed by the brand team carefully over time. Celebrities, on the other hand, are not in anyone's control, and a brand's fortunes could be badly affected by their behaviour, health or other factors,” he says.

Appasamy notes that the rise of digital medium has resulted in new possibilities with mascots, given the potential of humanizing them using AI. “This works very well on the digital platforms, while the intensive scrutiny of celebrities on digital can, in fact, make them an iffy proposition with many in the target audience due the value judgments people can make. These are some compelling reasons why brands are increasingly reviving the idea of a mascot over celebrity endorsements,” he remarks.

The latest brand to face brutal social media trolling has been Dabur after actor Akshay Kumar was on Monday (April 5) admitted to a city hospital as a precautionary measure a day after testing positive for the novel coronavirus. He and Dabur were trolled for endorsing Dabur India's immunity boosting product 'Chyawanprash' for protection against COVID-19.

Shradha Agarwal, COO and Strategy Head- Grapes Digital, notes that with so much trolling happening frequently these days, brands are mulling about having mascots in their communication plans. “Brands ordinarily go after the mascots or known faces/brand ambassadors because authenticity and loyalty connect them with the target audience. Actors have big fan moments, in India, they are treated as gods. People follow actors’ preferences on a specific product, ultimately leading them to buy the XYZ product.

However, this phenomena is somewhat evolving due to increased trolling and scrutiny of celebrities. In recent times, there have been brands that have faced social media dissent, and many times are caught in unprecedented situations, be it in the form of nasty comments or boycott.  

Thus, social media has forced advertisers and agencies to focus effectively on each aspect of an ad, and deep dive into the messaging because you never know which brand can be the next on the netizens trolling list. This also articulates that gone are the days when brands used to feature big celebrities because they believed everything can work if there’s a popular face. Today, the communication has to be strong, because any false assurance can damage the brand value.  Agencies do make great use of mascots, though limited to only selling merchandise. Mascots also hold great branding power, having the ability to catch attention quickly,” says Agarwal.


The face of modern branding

Samit Sinha, Managing Partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting, asserts that during these times the biggest advantage for a brand to create and build its own brand mascot, as against celebrity endorsements, is that it then has full control over its narrative and is protected against the fluctuations in the endorser’s fame and fortune in the public domain. “A brand mascot can be a very useful marketing tool, giving the brand instant recognisability, familiarity and a consistent personality across markets, often being able to cut through linguistic and cultural barriers. Some of them have gone on to become so famous that they have become part of popular culture. Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, or closer home, the Amul Girl, are two such examples. But unlike celebrity endorsers, who lend their earned fame and celebrity status to brands, in the case of inanimate mascots, it is the brand that infuses life into them and provides them their meaning in people’s minds,” he says.

Sinha adds that this also means that they require continual nurturing over a long period and also commensurate marketing investments to gain critical mass. “However, once they cross the threshold into widespread recognition, they can make a significant contribution towards the brand’s marketing effectiveness, which is when they become immensely valuable. Think of mascots like Ronald McDonald or Bibendum. The brand identities of McDonald's and Michelin would just not be the same without them,” he remarks.

Like several other brands and celebrities, former Indian captain Saurav Ganguly and Fortune Oil too had to bear the brunt of much trolling a couple of months ago after Ganguly, who is the company’s brand ambassador, suffered a cardiac problem.

Chaitanya Joshi, Creative Director, dentsu Webchutney, noted that building or reviving a mascot comes with its own challenges. “Firstly, it is a long term game. It needs patience, commitment and deep pockets. Secondly, mascots are truly successful only when they seep into the culture.

Imagine building the next Tony Stark. Every kid not only recognises you but also loves you. And this takes time and effort. T-shirts with ZooZoos sold for Rs 250 on Linking Road post the IPL campaign. While many might debate the legality of it, it actually speaks volumes on how successful Vodafone was. After a while, the people owned ZooZoos more than the brand itself,” he asserts.

Joshi adds that lastly, the sentiment towards the brand matters too, be it a celeb or a mascot. “A lot of things that the Amul girl can say, not many brand mascots or celebs can. It is because not only the mascot enjoys the love of the consumer, but also the brand itself,” he opines.

At a time when online conversations have turned into a bruising sport, brands finding themselves in the line of fire is pretty much commonplace these days with their reputations being dragged to the boxing ring as customers clash over political affiliations, religious beliefs and personal biases.

Prathap Suthan, managing partner and chief creative officer (CCO) of Bang In The Middle, too feels these days when celebrities can be hauled up for shortfall in product delivery or get sued for not combating and providing protection against the elements as promised by the advertising, getting mascots out in front is a good way to counter a lot of things. “For one, established mascots are enduring, even eternal. They can only get younger and more robust, as animation technology gets better every day. Time cannot harm them or give them flab or grey hair, or frail. More importantly, they can’t misbehave with people, slap someone, jump political parties, or even say something that get them into controversies. Also, no competition can lure them away, police can’t arrest them and threaten to lock them up legally for not having double checked advertising promises, and certainly trolls can’t get under their skin, make them choke up in public, or gherao their cars, homes, and throw rotten eggs or worse at them and their pet dogs. In fact, mascots can actually turn around and respond in their own way. They can have their own social media channels, and do whatever they want within their brand construct, and fearlessly stand their ground,” he notes.

Suthan adds that the only thing is that while established mascots have lineage, legacy, and equity that they can depend on, keep in mind that those values have been built across time”. A lot of investment has gone into building them. A new brand will need to be ready to spend enormous amounts of money to create a mascot for themselves. And it takes time. Sure, with digital and social at their disposal, it will be much quicker, but the wallet better be fat and deep,” he remarks.

As we know it, nuance is a scarce commodity in the age of social media aggression. As mascots give brands warmth and personality, bringing them back could tug right at consumer heartstrings. After all, they are touchstones that we recognize, like, and trust.


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