afaqs!

POV: Can brand mascots ever overshadow a brand's message?

By Devina Joshi , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | July 11, 2011
Can brand symbols, the creative delivery mechanism for a brand's message, become brands in themselves - and, have better recall value?

Kiran Khalap, co-founder, Chlorophyll

The mascot is a telegraphic avatar of the brand. Used skillfully, it can communicate in shorthand. When allowed to drift, it can overshadow the core message and create irrelevant brand associations.

The Amul girl, the Air India Maharaja, the Onida Devil and Asian Paints' Gattu are popular Indian examples. Gattu created the category association of paint, nothing more. The changing social context made him a liability ('child labour') and an irrelevance ('untidy dripping paint'). Mercifully, he was cremated. The Maharaja created an association with old world hospitality, not airlines. Today, he has been reduced to a five-star-hotel darwan.

The Onida Devil is a peculiar case. He was a conceptual character without roots in Indian culture (we have no personification of evil in Hindu culture, unlike the Devil in Christianity) and, yet, he cut clutter because of his incongruity. He, too, overshadowed the brand.

Ashish Khazanchi, vice-chairperson, Publicis Ambience

The question really is whether the brand is going to live or die with the symbol.

If there is a strong point of view of the brand, the symbols or mascots will most likely be built around that vision. In such a case, one will propel the other. The stronger the mascot, the more the brand will benefit.

A case in point is the Energiser Bunny (of Duracell). It has been successful in garnering share and equity for the brand. Any extraneous element that comes as an afterthought, to merely make the communication more branded with additional visual elements, will always be less successful.

In such a scenario, even if the brand mascot does strike a chord because it is executed well, it will possibly not add very much to the equity of the brand. It will almost certainly not have any utility beyond the current campaign. Basically, this is because it does not come from a brand belief.

The annals of advertising history are replete with examples where people tried to create 'something like Gattu'.

Arvind Sharma, chairman, Leo Burnett, Indian Subcontinent

To communicate, brands need words, pictures and symbols. These are comparatively less efficient than simple, distinctive mascots. To cite an example: it will take a whole plethora of words such as 'rugged masculinity and freedom' to communicate what Marlboro is all about. Instead, the Marlboro Cowboy does all this just fine.

Now, if the message is not strong enough or 'well-branded', it is not worth communicating. Advertising money will be wasted if one ends up remembering the creative device more than the brand message. But, I don't think this happens -- the mascot is just an extension of the brand.

The message has to be important. The purpose of the mascot is to brand that message, and make it memorable. If Vodafone Zoozoos are communicating '30p per minute' as a proposition, then this '30p' has to be a strong thing to say.

The only risk is that mascots can get outdated, theoretically speaking.

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