Akshit Pushkarna
Points of View

Is brand building with mascots a thing of the past?

Earlier, legacy mascots helped in building brands. Do the newer ones have the same impact?

For a long time, brands have utilised a fictional character designed specifically to promote and market themselves. Mascots of legacy brands like Parle-G, Vodafone, Amul, etc., immediately pop in one's mind. 

Remember the ‘Amul girl’ and the brand's moment marketing print ads? The ads involve a satirical commentary on current events and tie it with the leading dairy products brand.

‘Amul girl’, like Air India's ‘Maharaja’ or ‘Parle-G girl’, among others, are instantly recognisable and have made their place in Indian pop culture. But in recent times, not many brands have made exceptional efforts to develop and sustain a mascot.

However, some Indian startups as well as more established brands have recently revived the practice of utilising a mascot to promote their products. They aim to make them synchronous with their brand image. Some such brands include Sleepy Owl, Keventers and Dunzo. However, the number is less, when compared to brands taking more conventional routes, like using endorsers or influencers.

This leads one to ask the following questions: is marketing through mascots, relevant in today's context? At a time when a brand's identity is associated more with its logo, colour palette, do up-and-coming companies find it viable to invest in a company mascot? Are consistent endorsements via influencers a more effective strategy, than utilising a mascot?

afaqs! reached out to industry experts to get their perspectives on the relevance of brand mascots today.

Edited excerpts:

Prabhakar Mundkur, independent advisor and consultant, former chief mentor, HGS Interactive

I always look at mascots as a brand’s storyteller. It is a central continuing character, who spreads the brand's message and personality. One could argue that older brands have mascots more than newer ones. But then, most global brands could be termed as old.

There is ‘Colonel Sanders’ for Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) or the ‘Michelin man’ for Michelin or, in the Indian context, the Air India ‘Maharaja’ or the ‘Amul girl’.

I don't think endorsements via influencers are more effective. This is because influencers change every year and have a short life. Mascots, in a sense, are timeless. They are forever if you have got a good one. When I see brands like Sleepy Owl using mascots, I find them to be great. 

Prabhakar Mundkur
Prabhakar Mundkur

Why not try something that has worked for so many brands and for so many decades? Most tools in marketing are just trends and, as we know, in fashion, trends keep coming back. So, maybe, mascots are trending once again.

Sai Ganesh, independent brand consultant and former brand lead, Dunzo

Mascots have always been relevant. It is just about how brands utilise them as a resource. The important question here is, whether brands use mascots to solve a particular business problem in a specific campaign, or just find them cute and are taking an offhanded approach. If the former is the case, then they can turn out to be great. But generally, mascots tend to become dead-weight assets for the brands, if not utilised very well. 

If brands want to convey to a wider audience, for whom language is a barrier, visual mascots make a huge difference, in terms of communication. However, using mascots just for advertising doesn't really work well. At least that has been the case in the recent past. 

Sai Ganesh
Sai Ganesh

In the case of Dunzo, our primary objective was to communicate with our delivery partners on the partner app. We used mascots to help them better understand how the entire process works. They were also good to use on social media, as mascots can say/do things, which influencers or ambassadors may not be able to.

I feel newer brands have not been able to make much of an impact with their mascots. They may be memorable, but whether it works for the brand, is still questionable.

I think the issue here is that cartoonish characters don't really evoke trust - a big issue for newer brands who are looking to build trust or a rapport with the consumer. Old school legacy brands have created many iconic moments over the years and, hence, are more relatable. 

Vani Gupta Dandia, independent business consultant, CherryPeachPlum Growth Partners

In the current context, I think they are even more relevant as, by and large, we have become immune to celebrity power. Also, there are so many influencers and the concept of a celebrity is less effective. Hence, the role of a mascot is even more important, because it is entirely under the brand's control, and gives the brand a unique and distinct identity.

Vani Gupta Dandia
Vani Gupta Dandia

Mascots are controversy-free and can be controlled by the brand, as opposed to an external influencer, whose actions the brand can’t control. The problem is that a well-created mascot requires a lot of consistent effort by the brand and the external agency. Most want to take a shortcut and it also feels fashionable to bring in a celebrity, as it feels like a bigger statement to make.

The first thing that a startup does when it acquires funding, is to go look for celebrities to promote the brand. In my opinion, a mascot can be a better option.

However, agencies don't get paid separately for developing a mascot and that's a problem. It requires a lot of patience and consistent effort with lesser incentive. A well-crafted mascot may not take more than a couple of months, which is similar to getting an endorsement from a celebrity.

Agencies make most of their money from big sets, TVCs, etc., and command a more significant margin there. Creating a mascot is more cost-effective and there is a lesser incentive. Hence, most agencies also don't bother with it.

Shekhar Badve, founder, Lokus Design

Is brand building with mascots a thing of the past?

Mascots don't hold as much relevance today, as they used to earlier. There are several reasons for this. The most prominent reason is the emergence of brand owners/startups as more powerful ambassadors.

Today’s consumers are privy to a lot more stories and content online. What they usually tend to buy into, are real stories and people who are inspirational. This is across the spectrum for brands. Hence, mascots take a back seat as preferred brand ambassadors and, in my opinion, are more gimmicky than effective.

Second, the consumers aren’t looking at an image, mascot, face, etc., to accept a brand and consume its products. They are looking for more holistic experiences from the brands across touch points. The entire lifecycle is what a customer is looking at, when it comes to associating with the brand. In such a scenario, the brand mascot plays a small role. The entire experience becomes more of a valuable marketing tool for a brand.

Have news to share? Write to us atnewsteam@afaqs.com