Do small businesses need brand mascots? The what’s, why’s, and how’s of brand characters

    Do small businesses need brand mascots? The what’s, why’s, and how’s of brand characters

    KFC, Barbie, Mr. Clean, M&Ms, Duracell, The Laughing Cow… Apart from being iconic, timeless, worldwide known brands, these have something ...

    KFC, Barbie, Mr. Clean, M&Ms, Duracell, The Laughing Cow…

    Find the Product Mascots Quiz

    Apart from being iconic, timeless, worldwide known brands, these have something else in common — a well-developed brand mascot

    When you think about Mr. Clean, you immediately imagine a muscly bald man in a white t-shirt, M&Ms is inseparable from the sassy talking peanuts, and Duracell is associated with pink rabbits exclusively. 

    Where would these brands be without their famous mascots? We can’t tell for sure, but definitely not as viral as they are today.

    If you want your business to stand out from the crowd, be more memorable, and generate more money, read this article till the end. We’ll tell you all about what brand mascots are, what types of brand mascots there are, the benefits and drawbacks of brand mascots, how to develop one, and how to use it in your marketing. 

    What are brand mascots?

    A brand mascot — also known as a brand character — is an avatar that represents a brand and acts as an ambassador for the products and services it offers. They are widely used by businesses in their marketing activities. 

    A brand mascot can be virtually anything from a human, to a humanized animal or object. Even more so today, when the world has been struck by the almighty Artificial Intelligence generating new shapes, forms, and characters. 

    Let’s take a look at the 3 key categories of brand mascots:

    1. Human characters

    Since the very goal of developing a brand mascot is to humanize a brand, an image of a human — either an existing person, a historical figure, or a fictional human — is a go-to option for many businesses. In fact, according to research, 21% of all mascots are human characters, making it the largest category.

    These are particularly popular because of how easy it is to give human characteristics to humans and promote real figures behind the brand. For instance, the well-known mascot of KFC is the founder, Colonel Sanders. 


    1. Humanized animals

    Humanized animals are the second largest category when it comes to brand mascots. A lot of businesses resort to animals when developing their mascots; this is because animals surround us and, therefore, play an important part in our lives. Anthropomorphism is also a key factor, which is the tendency to attribute human traits to animals, plants, even non-living objects. When observing the world around us, we tend to notice typical behaviors of different animals. Then, we create animal archetypes. 

    These archetypes can be used to convey the values of a company or the features of the products it sells. 

    For example, Jaguar’s mascot is a jaguar: a powerful, speedy, graceful, and beautiful cat. These are exactly the associations the iconic car vendor wants its target audience to draw when they see the brand’s logo. 

    Another example of a well-known humanized animal that serves as a mascot for a famous company is Duracell’s pink rabbit. Rabbits are quick and energetic, just like the product Duracell offers, batteries. 

    Source: Alchetron

    On top of that, a lot of companies also use humanized animals because they’re directly associated with the product. For example, the mischievous Felix cat – the mascot of Felix cat food products owned by Purina.

    Source: Miscota

    1. Humanized objects

    Objects are the most difficult to humanize as they aren’t alive and, therefore, don’t have desired characteristics or archetypes. At the same time, however, they can be the easiest brand mascot to develop, because marketers can give any traits to an object they bring to life in their marketing communications. Besides, characters made of objects tend to be very eye-catchy.

    Usually, humanized objects are popular among companies that sell products with a distinct shape. Then, they can either transform the object itself into a mascot and give it life,, like the M&M’s Spokescandies, or use the product as building material to create a living creature, like The Michelin Man.

    What are the benefits of brand mascots?

    Modern customers are more picky and demanding than they were several decades ago. It’s no longer enough for businesses to sell a high-quality product to satisfy a customer. Today, customers expect to purchase emotions and positive experiences, alongside tangible products. Brand mascots do a great job of creating a backstory for the brand’s product and gather a community around it. 

    Some other noteworthy benefits of brand mascots include the following…

    • Brand mascots help raise brand awareness. Brand mascots — especially in the era of social media — increase your business’s chances of going viral and reaching a wider audience. They act as perfect material for user-generated content that spreads well beyond your usual target in the form of memes, pictures, and stories.
    • Brand mascots add value to your brand. Consumers tend to see brands with brand mascots as more trustworthy and serious. At the end of the day, it takes a lot of effort and dedication to develop a character, and people respect such qualities in businesses. 
    • Brand mascots differentiate you from your competitors. If you’re a business selling homologous products — say, cleaning supplies, — you have a better chance of standing out from the crowd if there’s something memorable about your brand. Visuals like a brand character are more likely to be recognized and remembered than a brand name. 
    • Brand mascots help make a brand more memorable. Mascots bring visual, verbal, and auditory elements together to develop lasting brand experiences and, therefore, better brand recall. To an extent, one can even claim that a well-designed brand mascot is capable of making your brand timeless — there are plenty of examples of brands that went out of business, yet are still remembered for the characters they used in their marketing communications. Think about Jeeves the butler, the brand mascot of Ask Jeeves. 

    Source: Kimp

    • Brand mascots tend to make communication more effective. The characteristics that certain brand mascots have can amplify the message a brand wants to convey. For example, if your brand positions itself as a fun, quirky, lighthearted brand, using a funny-looking, edgy mascot will instantly add those characteristics to the messages you share. 
    • Brand mascots aid storytelling and help humanize the brand. Brand mascots can have human characteristics and, therefore, can be put into human situations, making the brand noticeably more relatable. Moreover, by introducing a brand character, a business can get another point of view when telling their brand story, expanding the range of possibilities for an effective narrative. 
    • Brand mascots help establish an emotional connection between the brand and its audience. According to a research-based report on the effectiveness of advertising with characters by Technicolour Creative Studios and Moving Picture Company (MPC), brand mascots and characters can increase profit and emotional connection with customers by up to 41%. At the same time, campaigns without a mascot or character were only 29.7% as likely to increase market share gain. 

    With all this information at hand, it’s fair to suggest that brand mascots can give your business a competitive edge and drastically boost your sales. 

    In fact, there’s evidence showing that long-term campaigns featuring a character can increase profit gain by 34.1%, compared to 26.2% for campaigns without. As well as that, businesses that actively use brand mascots enjoy an average increase in customer acquisition by 40.9%, while the companies without one only get a 32% average increase. 

    However, despite all the numerous advantages of brand mascots, there are also several problems that can stem from using them for your marketing communications. The most common drawbacks of brand mascots include the following…

    • Some brand mascots can be “too cheesy”. Sometimes, brand executives try too hard to make their brand mascots trendy, cool, and “vibey”. As a result, they inevitably create an over-the-top caricature of the brand that annoys the audience. Often, this happens because marketers fail to conduct a thorough research of their target audience, and appeal to their pain points and their lifestyle. 

    An example of a brand that went too far in its attempts to create an edgy, memorable character is Burger King’s 2004 plastic-faced mascot called “The King”. While the character himself wasn’t bad at all, the situations in which marketing specialists of the fast-food chain company would put him were questionable, to say the least. In the following years, Burger King released an array of TV ads, in which their brand mascot  “would do some bizarre things such as sneaking up on customers, lurking outside their homes”, or setting a pile of gasoline cans on fire.

    The public didn’t react well to this, which led to a previously unseen by Burger King 6% decline in sales. Quickly after, The King vanished. 

    • Some brand mascots can have adverse effects on your brand’s reputation. If you choose a fictional character to represent your brand, you’re all good — you’re in full control over their actions. However, if you “borrow” someone’s face to represent your business, you risk never having a calm day ever again. The problem is that people — even the most unproblematic ones — can do something questionable and get canceled by society. If your real-life brand character finds themself in the center of a scandal, you can expect the consequences of this scandal to have an impact on your brand, too. 
    • Overexposing your audience to your brand mascot can jade them. While it can be exciting to share your character with the world and spread the word about your business, using their image in your communications too often can tire people. 
    • Some brand mascots can create a brand disconnect. Sometimes, brand mascots become brands of their own and overpower the business they were initially designed to promote. If your brand mascot ends up being only vaguely related to the product you sell, you risk not building the association between your mascot and your brand, losing all the benefits of having one.

    How to develop and use a brand mascot

    To make sure your brand mascot brings you all the benefits, and doesn’t just suck the money and time out of your creative team without generating much profit, you need to learn how to develop and use a brand mascot successfully.

    We’ve put together a step-by-step guide to developing a brand mascot and incorporating it into your brand communication strategy. Let’s get into it! 

    How to develop a brand mascot that will boost your business

    Step 1: Analyze your target audience and market

    Your main goal is to make your brand mascot appealing to your target audience. For that to become possible, you need to know exactly who comprises your target audience. Before you go any further into picking the best character to represent your brand, you need to answer the following questions to create a specific portrait of the audience that you want to get through to:

    • Who is your target audience? — Males and females have different perceptions of the world, they’re interested in different things. 
    • How old is your target audience? — Depending on the average age of your ideal customer, you might want to either go for cartoonish characters (if you target kids) or more serious figures. When you know the age of your audience, you can also appeal to them by choosing heroes that were popular during a specific time period. 
    • Where does your target audience live? If you’re developing a mascot for a local business, it’s better to use imagery that’s familiar to your target audience e.g. gray squirrels for British brands, or antilopes for African ones. 
    • What do your ideal customers like and dislike? — Is there a particular aesthetic your target audience is known to like? Are they fond of a particular color, shape etc? What do your customers watch and listen to?

    Once you know more about your target audience, it’s time to take a good look at your competitors. Do they use brand mascots? If yes, then what characters are popular in your market? You want to make sure you don’t go for a character that’s already taken by your competitors. 

    Step 2: Choose the right type of character 

    Once you know who you’re trying to appeal to with your brand mascot, it should be easier to decide which character type is the right one for your business.

    VistaCreate Pro Tip: If you’re a small business that decides to develop a brand mascot to represent your company, opt for objects and animals. It’s significantly easier and cheaper to animate them and incorporate them into your marketing campaigns.  

    Step 3: Come up with a backstory for your character

    As a successful marketer, you need to be a little bit of a writer, too. Not only to produce breathtaking copy for your marketing materials, but also to bring your brand character to life and give them an exciting backstory. 

    Here are a couple of prompts that can help you further humanize your brand mascot:

    • Where does your character come from? Where do they live? 
    • How old is your character?
    • Does your character have any superpowers?
    • What are your character’s special interests?
    • What’s your mascot’s personality like?
    • Does your character have any particular likes or dislikes? If so, what are they?
    • How does your character tie in with your brand? 

    The more detailed your answers to these questions are, the more believable, 3D, and relatable your brand mascot will be. 

    Besides, if you outline your character’s backstory at the early stages of the brand mascot development process, it’ll be easier to create a cohesive narrative in your subsequent marketing communications. You’ll be surprised at how many content marketing opportunities you’ll discover while jotting down your brand mascot’s life story. 

    VistaCreate Pro Tip: Don’t forget to give your character a name. Mascots with names instantly appear to be more personal and human-like. 

    Step 4: Plan your mascot’s emotions, poses, outfits, and scenes in which they will appear 

    To evoke emotions in your potential customers, your brand mascot needs to express emotions themselves. Ideally, to really humanize your character, give them a full spectrum of different emotions and scenarios in which they express them. 

    Realistically speaking, however, this is both impossible and not efficient. At the end of the day, you don’t want to invest your time and money into something you’ll never use. 

    So, the next step is to think about the default set of emotions, outfits, poses, and scenes that will be intrinsic to your mascot. There are a couple of rules that come with this courteous task… 

    1. Ask and you shall receive — your brand mascot’s default emotion will be the emotion your brand evokes in your audience. So, the obvious choice for brands that want to come across as joyful and happy is to create a mascot with a wide smile on their face. 
    2. The emotions your character expresses should be in line with their personality. For example, if you’re developing a strong, powerful mascot, it’s unlikely they’ll ever be crying in your marketing designs.  

    Here’s a list of basic emotions you can give to your mascot:

    Positive emotionsNegative emotions
    😁 Happy, Smile (used as default state)
    😁 Very happy, Large smile
    😁 Laughing
    😁 Surprised
    😁 Amused
    😁 Pride in achievement
    😁 Relief
    😣 Sad
    😣 Scared
    😣 Disgusted
    😣 Angry
    😣 Confused
    😣 Guilt
    😣 Embarrassed

    Then, decide on the signature poses of your mascot. The range of poses and actions your brand mascot can do will depend on their type, their backstory, and their personality, as well as the industry your business operates in. 

    Some generic poses can include:

    • Standing still
    • Running
    • Waving
    • Holding something
    • Thumbs up
    • Flexing their muscles

    In addition to that, you should also think about professional, niche-specific poses and actions. For example:

    • Talking on the phone
    • Working on a computer
    • Writing on a piece of paper
    • Cooking, etc.

    Just like the emotions and the poses, the default outfit of your brand mascot can tell the audience more about your brand vibe, values, and focus. Make sure to think about all the possible scenes in which your character will appear, and consider the possibility of designing several outfits for different occasions. While this isn’t a necessity, it will definitely give you room for experimentation and increase the audience’s engagement with your brand mascot. 

    Step 5: Design your brand character in alignment with your brand identity 

    This isn’t a ‘Drawing 101” blog, so we won’t talk about the intricacies of turning a planned-on-paper character into a drawn-on-paper character. 

    However, as marketing experts and partners to all small business owners, we’d like to discuss the following:

    1. Think about the trademark in advance. At some point, you’ll want to legally claim your rights for the brand mascot you develop. To make it possible, you must ensure your character is drawn from scratch and no elements of it are stolen from other artists.
    2. Align your brand mascot’s appearance with your brand identity. If you want people to associate your brand mascot with your brand, make sure you add brand colors, brand fonts, and all the other elements of brand identity to your design. Besides, doing so will help you in the future, as you won’t have to alter your brand mascot to go with your color consistent marketing designs. 
    3. Consider hiring a professional. The main idea behind developing a brand mascot is to heighten your brand, and come across as a trustworthy, serious brand. If you don’t have the skill to produce a high-quality drawing, delegate the task to someone who’s qualified. For example, you can turn to the professional designers of 99designs for help. 

    How to promote your business with a brand mascot 

    It’s not enough to simply develop a brand mascot to leverage all the benefits thereof. To raise your brand awareness, improve the memorability of your brand, and differentiate yourself from the competition, you need to actively use your brand character in marketing communications. 

    1. Use your brand mascot in your logo

    The best way to make your brand mascot go viral is to make them a part of your logo. This will help your audience draw an association between your mascot and your brand. 

    However, if you already have an established logo and don’t want to give it a makeover the second you develop a brand mascot, you can create a version of your logo that interacts with the brand character in one way or another. 

    For example… Your brand mascot can interact with your logo just like Ronald McDonald does with the famous M:

    Source: Logo Download

    2. Use your brand mascot in your blog posts

    As a rule of thumb, a corporate blog is where you can experiment with different formats, styles, and visuals. Why not use it to promote your brand mascot, too? 

    There are plenty of ways in which you can incorporate your brand character into your blog posts:

    • Use your brand mascot in your header pictures
    • Include your brand mascot in the images you use to illustrate your points in the articles you post
    • Create a special rubric, where explain certain information via the means of your brand mascot

    Here’s an example of the BuzzSumo blog, which uses their brand mascot, a sumo wrestler, in all the featured images to their posts:

    3. Use your brand mascot in your social media posts

    For a while, marketers had been speculating that brand mascots were becoming a thing of the past. And then, the rise of social media happened, giving brand mascots a second breath. 

    You can easily make your social media posts more on-brand and impactful by adding your brand character to your social media marketing designs. 

    With VistaCreate and the many themes its free templates cover, it’s easy! Simply upload the picture of your brand mascot to your personal repository of files and add it to your design projects — either created from scratch or using one of the many VistaCreate social media templates — in a matter of seconds. 

    Here’s a couple examples of how different brands elevate their social media posts by using brand characters:

    Do small businesses need brand mascots? The what’s, why’s, and how’s of brand characters
    Do small businesses need brand mascots? The what’s, why’s, and how’s of brand characters

    Or you can go as far as to create a separate social media account for your brand mascot, and start sharing posts about your business on their behalf. Barbie did it, Mr. Clean did it… Why wouldn’t you? 

    Who knows, maybe your brand mascot will be the next big virtual influencer. 👀

    4. Use your brand mascot in your printed materials

    If you’re a local business, it’s likely that you’ll have some printed materials, such as flyers and leaflets, business cards, coupons, posters, etc. Don’t hesitate to make them more branded by adding your mascot. 

    Here’s an example from Michelin:

    Source: Michelin

    5. Use your brand mascot in your product packaging

    If your business is selling physical products, consider revamping your packaging by adding your mascot. It’s an old trick, but it definitely gets the job done. When we think about Kellog’s Frosties, we immediately imagine the charismatic Tony the Tiger, don’t we?

    Source: Cameroon 

    With the rise of the Metaverse, it’s only a matter of time before your brand will require a digital avatar. So, don’t waste another minute and get down to designing the avatar’s prototype, your brand mascot!

    Valerie Kakovkina

    Content marketing manager at VistaCreate. Valerie loves all things marketing, with her favourite areas being email marketing and social media. When out of the office, Valerie loves travelling, going to parties, and helping her friends with their art projects (oh to be surrounded by artists).

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