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Brand Management: Doís and Doníts for Brand Mascots

  • Do have your mascot designed by a professional. A bad character can do just as much damage as a good character can do good. It's all a reflection on your brand. Just because your nephew got A's in art class doesn't mean he understands the nuances of character development.
  • Do give your character a name and let people know what it is.
  • Do have your character make eye contact with people.
  • Do make your character smile a lot.
  • Do make your character exude enthusiasm and a positive outlook.
  • Do let your character speak up, whether it's in cartoon dialog bubbles or in live animation. Giving your character a chance to speak gives people a chance to know him and like him better.
  • Do make your character say and do important things. His dialog will always be the first thing people read so use the opportunity to lead people where you want them to go, or to deliver key messages that support your brand strategy or positioning.
  • Do be consistent. If you write dialog for him that incorporates Southern slang, use it every time.
  • Do know what traits you want him to have so that you can be consistent with him. Is he a lovable, bumbler or a sharp-as-a-tack solution finder? Does he get over-the-top excited about things, or is he a more laid back, easy-going type of guy? Is he humble or confident?
  • Do consider your customer base when choosing your character's traits. This doesn't necessarily mean MATCH your character's traits to your customers. Sometimes people like to see negative examples that can make them feel better about themselves. For example, for a financial adviser, a cartoon character that constantly makes poor financial decisions and has to be helped by the adviser might work well. The character could constantly be seen in situations where the adviser just saved him from making yet another mistake.
  • Do give your character some type of flaw, phobia or on-going challenge. Hollywood calls it making a character more sympathetic. The Silly Rabbit is always struggling to get his hands on Trix. Lucky the Leprechaun is always running away from people trying to get his Lucky Charms.
  • Do keep them smiling. Note the Silly Rabbit and Lucky Leprechaun always keep smiling in the face of adversity.
  • Do limit the scope of subject matters for your mascot. If he's developed for promoting product A, don't let him talk about product B just because he's become so popular. Keep him focused. Keep him on a short leash.
  • Do let him go home with customers. Whether it's on t-shirts, tattoos, frizbees or golf balls, your mascot does some of his best work on premium items.
  • Do give him a trait that he will be recognized for such as: thoughtful, curious, intelligent, resourceful, likeable, sweet, clumsy, sassy.
  • Don't let him share center stage with other characters. One of the reasons cartoon mascots stand out so well is their uniqueness.
  • Don't let them be surrounded by similar objects - other cartoons.
  • Don't ever make your mascot do or say anything mean or spiteful.
  • Don't let just anyone write dialog for your character. That person needs to have a firm grasp of your character's personality profile and your brand strategy, and know how to weave them together into effective dialog.
  • Don't let him speak about subjects outside his area of expertise.
  • Don't let him show up just anywhere. Typically cartoon mascots are great sales and training presenters. They find good homes in sales promotions, packaging, signage, merchandising, training manuals, newsletters and advertisements. They are not necessarily the best choice for annual reports and communications with stockholders and institutional investors. You might see the Pillsbury Dough Boy take a small role in the annual report, but I doubt that you'd find him filling the front cover like a Cosmopolitan supermodel.
  • Don't let an amateur perform surgery on him.
  • Don't let anyone combine your character with clip art by cutting and pasting. It will look amateurish and diminish the brand.
  • Don't let your mascot show anger. It's OK for them to get frustrated as long as they do it with a smile.
  • Don't orphan your mascot. In other words, don't just through him out on the street and expect him to grow up to be a wild success without your wisdom and guidance. He is an extension of your business - your child. He needs to be introduced properly - so talk about him, brag about him, tell his story, and give him a reason for living. He needs to be taught how to talk - so spend time thinking about how he thinks: what he might say, and how he might say it.
  • Don't lose sight of his purpose. It's tempting to just have fun with a mascot sometimes, but remember they have a job to do. Their message should always serve a purpose such as: leading readers into the copy; pointing out a benefit; reinforcing a cultural quality; entertaining; building relationships; provoking curiosity, etc. Be able to justify what you have him doing in each application.
  • Don't let him be sarcastic. It might be entertaining in some venues, but it's not a likeable trait.