The world of advertisements is filled with mascots, those loveable, trustable images that represent any one of thousands of products. Sometimes, they are called product reps or a spokesman (a spokesperson?) Generally, mascots should be cute and endearing so that we feel a kind of friendship with the mascot. This friendship brings with it a preference and a loyalty both of which are key features of any friendship. Parents understand this when it comes to trying to substitute a lower cost mascot-less cereal for one that features well-known cereal mascots such as Cap’n Crunch, Tony the Tiger or Toucan Sam. Choosing a generic brand most likely upsets the bond of friendship the child feels with any one of these mascots.
Mascots are not only for children. We adults also pick and choose our mascot friends and remain loyal and preferential to them. Some of these mascots are on our shoulders as we grow from childhood into adulthood. Most adults will choose an easy-bake product mascotted by the Pillsbury Doughboy over a generic brand. Adults looking for their preferred liquor are most likely to choose The Jägermeister Stag and Johnnie Walker’s Striding Man.
I’m sure that lots of trials and tests are used before any mascot is presented to the public as a representative of a product. Afterall, a mascot can make a break a product. Mascots need to be universally appealing because most products are available worldwide. Colonel Sanders is as popular in Japan as he is in the United States. A Forbes magazine article (The Rise of the Non-Human, Non-Living Product Spokesman, Todd Wasserman, 5 August 2020) is about Colonel Sanders appearing now in Tokyo as a plastic model which is placed on the street in front of a KFC store. There, he can be seen from a distance and his friendly smile beckons his hungry and faithful friends to walk toward him and enjoy the friendship. The article mentions that the plastic model also bespeaks an embrace of technology in a very tech-oriented society. I personally am not a teckie and so I don’t associate Col. Sanders with technology. I guess this goes to show the power of representation. The concept of Col. Sanders speaks to many generations and cultures.
Mascots come and go as sensitivities and association-meanings in society change. For example, Mia the native American woman who sold butter was quietly removed from the label of Land-O-Lakes dairy products. Frito Bandito was also removed from Frito-Lay products after years of complaints. After forty years of brand mascotting, even Tropic Ana no longer spoke for our friendship with orange juice. Ther charming singing trio called the California Raisins also came to an end because they were just too expensive and time-consuming to use.
Last year, the Mexican government took a stand on the use of mascots in product advertising for children. Faced with a national obesity problem for children, the government banned the use of cute, adorable mascots. It seems that friendships with certain mascots added additional pounds to Mexican youngsters. A farewell was therefore announced to such mascots as Osito Bimbo, Gansito Marinela, Chester Cheetah and the dancing penguins. Kids loved these so much that they were influenced to the detriment of their health.
This is the same kind of campaign developed by the American Medical Association in the 1970s to fight against the use of Joe Cool as a cigarette mascot. This cartoon appealed to children and surveys indicated that children ages 3-6 recognized Joe Cool more often than Mickey Mouse, Fred Flintstone and Bugs Bunny. The campaign was successful because no one has seen Joe Coll since 1997. As I mentioned earlier, mascots come and go.
Here are some beloved mascots that have been around a long time.
Finally, it must be said that some mascots should never speak. The Bejing 2022 Winter Olympics mascot Bing Dwen Dwen nearly lost his job when he opened his mouth, shocking and disillusioning many Chinese. Bing Dwen Dwen was a much-loved cuddly mascot until a deep-male voice came from his mouth. The voice surprised many people who later lost their admiration for Bing, the Panda. Bye-bye Bing.