Clad in a pink nightgown, seven-year-old Jessica scans the cereal boxes lined up on top of the refrigerator. Her eyes light up as she reaches the brown box at the end. She leaps in the air and flaps her arms wildly.
“That’s what I want!” she yells, “I’m cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs!”
And she is cuckoo as she sloshes milk over the small brown spheres in her cereal bowl. As I’m certain the exorbitant sugar content cannot have reached her blood yet, I know her behavior is the result of clever branding. Although cereal has little to do with birds, Sonny the Cuckoo Bird has been selling breakfast cereal on television commercials since the early 1960s. And he is quite an effective salesman. Not only is the cereal a core brand for General Mills, but the term “Cocoa Puff” has earned itself a significant cultural reference.
Strange as it may sound, when packaged products take on a personality that consumers can relate to, sales increase. Products come to life when a mascot or animated figure gives the product a face-not just a brand-to trust. This is why children beg a breakfast of Cocoa Puffs, despite its low nutritional content. But certainly naïve children are not the exclusive targets of branding.
When it comes to choosing cleaning products, how many of us picture grim-faced scrub brushes scouring our tubs? Can a competing brand perform as well? We think not, as we drop a bottle of Scrubbing Bubbles into our shopping basket. Mr. Clean, with his sparkling bald head and sailor’s physique, has been mopping floors across the globe since the 50s. A brand’s personality can offer the single most important reason why one brand is chosen over another. Personality gives the consumer something to relate to that can be more vivid than the perceived positioning of the brand. Furthermore, a strong identifiable personality makes it easier for customers and prospects to understand what the marketer has to offer.
This is why Ronald McDonald sells more hamburgers, why the Kool-Aid Man leads in punch sales, and why the Jolly Green Giant dwarfs his competition. This is why we picture companionable lizards when considering which car insurance to buy. When building brand it is well worth the while to assign a mascot to carry the image of the brand.
When considering mascots, it is critical that you convey an image that will appeal to your target audience without alienating or offending part of the population. This was the unfortunate situation that Aunt Jemima found herself in. Aunt Jemima began selling pancake mix and syrups in the late 1800s, when her kerchiefed hair and apron was the stereotypical garb of a black “Mammy.” Indeed, Aunt Jemima was marketed as a slave woman servicing her white family. Plagued with a tarnished image, the company has tried to bring their spokeswoman up-to-date with a younger, more attractive African-American woman wearing a modern hairstyle and pearls. Still, the term “Aunt Jemima” has come to be a somewhat disparaging term. (“Uncle Ben” of Uncle Ben’s Rice has a similar history.)
When choosing an appropriate mascot for your brand, first identify what you are trying to achieve. Who will conceivably buy your product or services? What kind of character would appeal to that audience? Is this a spokesperson that will stand the test of time? In what way will the personality reach out to the consumer and communicate the strengths of your product or service? Is this an image you desire? When you’ve found the right fit, proceed with care-like reputation, image is very difficult to change once it is established. You will know you’ve found the winning spokesperson when the spark brings your product to life.