“Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.”
— Leo Burnett
Where have all the brand mascots gone?
Earlier this year, I had a conversation with a source for a project I’m working on about the Pillsbury Doughboy. During our chat, I brought up the 50th birthday of Poppin’ Fresh in 2015 and his take on the milestone. Where did he see the Doughboy heading in the next 50 years?
My source paused, “Frankly, I feel like we’re not seeing enough of him anymore. It’s not just the Doughboy either. It’s all of the other brand mascots. Speedy Alka Seltzer, Charlie the Tuna, the Energizer Bunny. Maybe they’re just not generating as much interest as they did in the past.”
Hmm. I had also noticed the steady disappearing act of brand mascots on TV and in print and online advertising. Today, it’s just faster and cheaper to create a hashtag or a seven second video campaign to sell products or drive clicks to a website. But for anyone to move forward, brands especially, they have to look back to see where they came from.
Let’s shift gears and talk about Leo Burnett and cereal boxes for a moment.
It seems almost impossible to imagine it now, but in the 1950s cereal boxes were stark in appearance. The name of the cereal was written in big, black letters so grocers could see what was high up on the shelves at the store. As the President of his own ad agency, Burnett was famous for transforming how consumers were marketed to by major brands. He saw cereal boxes as untapped real estate for advertising, specifically the boxes of his client Kellogg’s. Armed with creatives, Burnett would pitch to the President of Kellogg’s, W.B. Kellogg, a presentation featuring cereal boxes like never seen before – covered in wonderful photographs of milk being poured into bowls and children eating the cereal.
In a podcast with General Mills, Rudy Perz, creator of the Pillsbury Doughboy, explained that Leo’s approach altered not only cereal boxes, but the nature of advertising as we know it. With Kellogg’s blessing, Burnett created Tony the Tiger, a mascot that would accompany their new cereal Sugar Frosted Flakes.
Leo Burnett developed the moniker of “the critter agency” creating brand mascots including Charlie the Tuna, the Marlboro Man, Morris the Cat, the Doughboy, and many more. There would be short-lived mascots in the mix like 7-Up’s Cool Spot and others that are still popular today like Allstate’s Mayhem. Some were adorable, funny, or zany, but nearly all of them became so memorable that consumers recognized them before the brand itself. It’s that line of recognition that makes an icon, well, as icon.
Here’s what you can expect to see in Icons with Character, a blog devoted solely to brand mascots:
- Features on old favorites (Lucky the Leprechaun, the Keebler Elves) in a wide variety of industries (Mr. Clean, GEICO Gecko) and a look at those that might be forgotten (Frito Bandito, AOL’s Running Man).
- The design evolution of a brand mascot.
- Throwbacks to slogans, jingles, commercials, and print ads.
- Interviews with character voiceover and agency talent.
- And plenty more “greaaaaaaat!” surprises.
So where are the mascots going? As a long-time brand mascot enthusiast, I don’t think it’s time to say “Sorry, Charlie” just yet and write them off of our radar. I believe that their trustworthy nature and longevity keeps these critters poised for a comeback.
Maybe Icons with Character will have something to do with that.
Image Credit: Parade.com