What are Brand Mascots and how do they influence customer behavior?
Brand building is as much about creating personal, genuine human-centric connections with your customers as it is about the product itself. And brands employ various tactics to do so, such as signing celebrity endorsers that resonate with the public (like BigB, Dhoni, SRK) to coming up with emotional ads that tug the heartstrings (like Google's India Pakistan Reunion campaign). One of the most widely popular (and sadly, fast disappearing) tactics is that of using a Brand Mascot.
Brand Mascots are caricatures, cartoon characters, symbols, or figures that personify a brand. They have been used since over a century and have often become an inseparable part of many a brand's image. The Pillsbury Doughboy, Michelin Kid, Asian Paints' Gattu, and Air India's Maharaja are some that have created memorable brand associations with the public and still manage to evoke a smile. But it's not just the smile that makes brands wants to use them. There are several ways in which they can influence consumer behavior -
Building a Brand Personality
Brands try to differentiate themselves by creating a brand personality, which is essentially a set of attributes that help personify the brand. In one of my earlier blogs, I've spoken about it in a little more detail, describing Jennifer Aaker's seminal theory and how Apple built its brand personality.
Using a brand mascot is one of the fastest ways to build and get your brand personality across. For example, Maharaja (Air India) was warm and welcoming thereby lending Air India a personality of hospitality, whereas the Michelin Boy was playful and fun which actually gave Michelin a distinct personality in the otherwise commoditized business of vehicle tires where there's really no means of differentiation besides scientific literature.
Air India's Maharaja was warm, welcoming, giving the airlines a hospitable persona
The Michelin Man turned a commoditized brand into a fun brand
Aiding in Brand Recall
Brands want you to remember them after you have interacted with them, be it in stores on the shelves, or on a TV ad that you have just seen. But in product categories that are competitive, people often mistake one brand for the other. I remember having spoken to famous TV actress Ratna Pathak Shah (Maya Sarabhai from Sarabhai vs Sarabhai) and she said that even though she endorses Bru Coffee, people often come up and congratulate her for her 'Nescafe Ad'. As a brand, you certainly don't want that to happen!
Such identity mistakes can be avoided if you have a brand mascot. Unlike celebrities which endorse multiple ads, a brand mascot sticks with a brand forever. It is an intellectual property of the brand, and no one else can use it without licensing it officially.
Brand Mascots are extremely handy in getting brand recall at places with low literacy rates where people may not know how to read or spell out a brand name.
In such rural pockets, people can buy a brand solely based on recognition, and as such, a brand mascot can work wonders. Take for example Gattu from Asian Paints. Once upon a time in the 1990s, Asian Paints sold massive in rural India thanks to Gattu. His image of a mischievous boy who would paint everything that came in the way right from buildings to a bald man's head made him endearing, and contributed to Asian Paints' recall and sales.
Asian Paints' Gattu was made by famous cartoonist R.K. Laxman
Creating Emotional Connections
Over time, the affable personalities of many of these brand mascots creates a soft corner in the audiences' hearts. When Vodafone (Hutch) used a Cheeka the Pug in its advertisements, the awareness and adoption of pugs increased in India, and so did the subscriptions.
Go to any McDonalds and you will find kids wanting to take photographs with Ronald McDonald.
There is an unexplainable bond that forms with these mascots. And brands are often able to cash on these by creating goodies, toys, and other playable items.
Lending Design Consistency
I made up this reason just to accommodate the Amul girl. Amul's banner ads are instantly recognizable because of the style of design, even if the face depicts famous celebrities most of the times. There is a certain design consistency that arises out of using a brand mascot.
Also, unlike the celebrity endorsers, one doesn't have to worry about the mascots aging!
Amul's weekly topicals have looked very consistent since 1960s thanks to the Amul Girl
Providing direct Business Value
If a business ever wants to cash out or get acquired, having a brand mascot that's both memorable and recognizable can increase the valuation of that business by multi-folds. This is because a recognizable asset can generate business value for years to come. It's as good as having a cash-cow product, if not better.
In today's times, the need for having well thought out mascots is more than ever. However, not many companies are paying serious thought to this. The narrative has now shifted more towards brand logos. And while brand logos have their place, there is hardly anything that can replace a brand mascot and all the attributes that it brings with itself. That is why we still feel a stronger connection with brands like Chocos, Cheetos, and the Pillsbury Doughboy as compared to an Amazon or Microsoft, who despite being hugely successful don't feel as personable.