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How to Make Your Brand Mascot More Interesting and Effective

The following is a backstory I wrote about our cartoon pencil character to make him more interesting and endearing, and closely related to the main selling points of our product (clip art sets). Read this, and then Iíll break down the elements that make it an effective marketing tactic.

Peteís Story:
Pete the Pencil was born in 2007, when I first started Toons4biz. His first appearance was in a brochure that lead him to develop a deep-rooted fear of paper. Yes, heís a pencil thatís afraid of paper. Iíve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what went wrong. Do you know how hard it is to find a psychologist who will work with a cartoon pencil? Apparently they donít like getting lead on their couch. I have a great way to get lead stains off of upholstery, but that is another story, and I digress.

I suspect it has something to do with the fact that I never went to press with the brochure. Instead, I decided to use my Web design and SEO skills to promote the new business venture online. Printing and postage can be a bit pricey, and I knew how to reach many more people through the Internet. So there were about a dozen illustrations of him that never saw the light of day, and I think he never really got over it.

I went to great lengths to make him feel better Ė to help him make more friends and get out into the real world. The first thing I did was draw him in 25 poses that could be used by businesses for promotional purposes. I drew him holding a phone; holding a blank sign; holding a fist full of money, and that kind of thing. This way, I thought heíd be invited to help businesses share their story more effectively, and make friends along the way. Then I thought he ought to get in the holiday spirit, so I drew him in 25 poses related to Christmas, Halloween and other holidays. This got him a few more friends, but he still seemed down, so I thought Iíd get him involved in sports. Yes! That was a good idea, so I drew him playing 25 different sports, ranging from golf to football, baseball and virtually anything you could think of.

Now, with 75 fun-filled and versatile poses, he had his own robust clip art set, and was making a lot of friends in the business world, but he stilled seemed lonely and couldnít look at paper without quivering. The poor little guy needed some cartoon friends who could explain that paper is not bad Ė he needs to give it a chance. And so I drew a cartoon lightbulb character for him to hang out with. Then I drew a cartoon computer, and an apple; and I did 75 versions of each so they could all enjoy the same holidays, sports and participate in similar business promotions. They were all happy, and getting along fine, so I drew more and more; and Iím still drawing more today, even though Iíve drawn 14,000 cartoons since I began. Now he has friends that are people, animals and objects for virtually every type of business, organization or school.

Pete seems happy now, staying busy with lots of friends, but I still canít get him to cozy up to a piece of paper. One day I hope to get him to make his mark on the world, or at least a piece of paper. If you have any suggestions, Iím all ears.

The basic rules of thumb for making a mascot more interesting are to give them: 1) a backstory, 2) a challenge, 3) a flaw or quirk, and 4) a personality profile.

When developing a backstory, try making it revolve around your product or service so you can use it to education people about what you do and why it is so good/different. Peteís story revolved around how I developed my clip art library, and it mentioned that we are also very good at Web design, SEO and Internet marketing. It also pointed out that, unlike other clip art, each of my cartoon characters comes in a robust clip art set.

Peteís challenge was overcoming his fear of paper, and itís important to note that it went unresolved, although he was made happy by having a bunch of new friends. If you let your mascot resolve their ďbig challenge,Ē then they are no longer the struggling underdog. Its human nature to pull for the underdog, so hang onto that status. There is a reason the Trix Rabbit never gets his hands on Trix, and why Lucky the Leprechaun is constantly on the run to protect his lucky charms. The Aflac Duck was at his most popular when he was simply struggling to get people to hear/acknowledge him while he quacked loudly the company name, but he was not so endearing when he started break dancing with pigeons in the park and developing a cocky attitude. The Geicko Caveman constantly strives for respect, and we laugh, but also feel his pain whenever he fails. We can relate to his frustration.

Peteís flaw/quirk was very much related to his challenge. They usually are. His fear of paper made him quiver by the mere site of paper. The irony makes it more humorous.

Itís important to know what your mascotís personality is like before writing a backstory because their personality is what explains their behavior, and it must be consistent. Consistency is what makes something believable, and from a marketing standpoint, is one of the most important elements of branding. In my mind, Pete is like a child that is good-natured, but disappointed in the fact that his brochure never went to press. He is polite, helpful and eager to please. He is very creative Ė a marketing genius in fact, but he has trouble getting his brilliant ideas down on paper.

Be careful about using humor. It is real easy to turn people off because different people have different senses of humor. Make sure the humor is delightful and non-offensive. The only person who gets the short end of the stick is your mascot. He can take it. Donít let anyone else ever bear the brunt of humor. Recognize there are different types of humor: sarcasm, sharp wit, dry, outlandish, sophisticated, earthy and more. Always avoid making jokes at otherís expense. I doubt that bathroom humor would find a valid home in many marketing campaigns. Dry, or deadpan, humor can be misunderstood so try avoiding it. Sarcasm should always be avoided. Self-deprecating humor (directed at your mascot) is safe. Other types of humor that are safe include: slapstick, bonding-in-the-moment, laugh-at-life. Making humorous references to quirky cultural events may, or may not, work, depending on your target audience.

The bottom line regarding humor is Ė donít offend. If youíre not a delightfully funny person, perhaps you ought to get the help of someone who is, or shy away from using humor.