How does a brand mascot stay alive?

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Gayatri Shrikhande, writer and brand ideator, chlorophyll brand and communications consultancy.

Gayatri Shrikhande, writer and brand ideator, chlorophyll brand and communications consultancy.

She wears a red and white polka-dotted dress with a matching bow in her hair as she licks her lips holding a thickly buttered slice of bread. Meet India’s most famous little girl. Born in 1967, the Amul Girl has never once left the brand’s side.

Brand mascots are the popular way to give a brand a face without using a celebrity. They have the advantage of being made lovable, humorous, quirky or whatever characteristic the brand personifies. Like the Amul Girl or the Michelin Man, if created well, the mascot can become as timeless as the brand itself. The Pillsbury Doughboy still leads a gleeful existence but 7 Up’s Fido Dido didn’t last through all the changes the brand underwent.  Likewise, the Air India Maharaja, though well-known, represents a bygone era, much like the airline itself. Mascots must be able to keep up with the changes in a brand.

Ronald McDonald goes beyond being a figure outside the restaurant to take pictures with. He is now strongly associated with the McDonald’s charity for sick children and is a symbol of joy and happiness.

Today, in the age of dynamic communication and ever-changing technology, the mascot’s potential has increased manifold. Not too many Indian brands seem to be leveraging this yet. Abroad, however, many mascots are jumping into the digital space because it’s a whole new arena to play with. Through its Super Bowl commercial last year, M&M unveiled its sixth character, Ms Brown. The feisty Ms Brown then held a live video chat with followers on Facebook and appeared on NBC’s ‘Celebrity Apprentice.’ She even has her own channel on Pandora, an online radio.

To promote its Milkbite granola bar, Kraft Foods created a part-milk, part-granola puppet named Mel who battles low self-esteem and identity issues. Mel posted regular video diaries on the brand’s Facebook page, and one post had him joining an art-therapy group to work through his ‘existential crisis.’

‘Movember’, a movement to raise awareness about men’s health, encouraged men to grow moustaches to show their support. Quaker Oats, known for being a ‘heart healthy’ brand, took this further and gave its mascot, Larry, a mustache too. Supporters can visit the Movember page, create a profile and track the progress of Larry’s moustache on the Facebook page.

What if the Amul Girl got involved with fans like this? The brand’s communication revolves around current issues and it would be interesting for her to talk to users about a relevant topic through the Facebook page. If the Air India Maharaja could be given a more contemporary avatar, it might even help to change the jaded impression of the brand.

Many say brand mascots are no longer important to a brand. If they don’t move with the times, then yes, their importance is questionable. Like any other element of communication, the brand mascot cannot rest on heritage alone.


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