Why Should We Care About Brand Mascots?

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Advertising Week’s 15th Anniversary Opening Gala will transform into the inaugural Madison Avenue Walk of Fame: Icon Awards. This celebration will honor the Madison Avenue Walk of Fame and legendary advertising icons.

Life in 2018 may be marching forward in every possible way, though to me, it seems as though we’re about to throw in the towel on brand mascots.

Why should consumers still look forward to seeing Frosted Flakes’ Tony the Tiger and Lucky from Lucky Charms in the cereal aisle when they can order their groceries online?

Why should ad agencies work to create a witty social media presence for Ernie the Keebler Elf when they can use their budget for seven-second looping videos and declare that’s enough ROI? Why should brands fight to keep these iconic faces going to the next generation and beyond?

Characters came into my life when I started freelancing at Advertising Week in 2015, by way of an invitation to the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago, Illinois. They were hosting “A Salute to Advertising’s Greatest Icons” and my curiosity was piqued as to which 10 characters would be considered “the greatest” in the industry. It had been a long time since I was last in a museum and out from behind a computer screen, so I accepted and was added to the press guest list.

I still remember the slow waltz I made around that space’s exhibit. At every turn was a different glass case that housed mascot memorabilia in all of its forms. Every time I peered in, I caught a new detail behind the glass. Ronald McDonald’s big, red clown shoes. A stacked tower of cereal bowls filled with Rice Krispies with toy figurines of Snap, Crackle, and Pop balanced on top. Handwritten sketches of StarKist’s Charlie the Tuna. Commercials played on TV screens throughout the space and a timeline hung by the door that detailed the year each mascot made their debut.

Icons made me feel absolutely charmed and absolutely stupid. What did I know about these friendly, fun characters? Nothing. I might have known their first names at best. If you didn’t work at an ad agency or with the brand, chances were you probably didn’t know too much more than me either.

We set out to change that at Advertising Week. Creating an Icons section devoted to the art. We started off with the basics, like character trivia. That gradually evolved into nostalgic throwbacks, then further research to uncover their makers, and before you knew it we had a bona fide brand mascot hub on our hands. We gave that page its own website this year and named it PopIcon

Consumers and brands love the relationships they have built with these trustworthy and engaging faces and for decades they’ve been a part of our lives.

When you become comfortable with a certain product or service, it’s only natural to take it for granted. It’ll always be there for us, right? Not always so as technology and societal tastes evolve. Sometimes mascots make it along for the ride, but many get lost along the way. When Toys ‘R’ Us liquidated this year, we said goodbye to the iconic Geoffrey the Giraffe. “Gone but not forgotten” are some famous last words indeed. How many among us will remember to tell our children about Geoffrey? Who knows about Linda Kaplan Thaler, the woman who came up with the company’s famous jingle? Will the next generation ever know anything quite like the wide-eyed joy that comes with stepping into a toy store, perhaps the ultimate in brand experiences?

If we don’t care enough to know about the stories of brand mascots of the past, how can we set out to create characters in the future?

This is why we should care about brand mascots. As we reflect on and celebrate our 15th anniversary, we realize that so much of this conversation has been about the icons. How can they be here with us? Who are we most excited to see? How can we honor them with our own Madison Avenue twist on Chicago’s salute?

That’s because bits and pieces of ourselves, from our inner child to the adults we have become (or will become), are reflected within them. Characters, in their own special way, have staked out a spot in our pop culture landscape and we love having them here.

Their histories are worth taking the time to uncover; their stories are worth sharing and being a part of their worlds is always a blast.

You never know what’s coming next, and the secret is, neither do we.

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