Famous brand mascots: a selection of the best-known characters from over the years

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Today, we’re taking a look at a subject that’s decidedly light and fluffy.

Because there’s nothing like a mascot to bring a smile to your face and raise a chuckle.

If you stop and think for a moment, you’ll realise that the number of mascots you’ve seen over the years is enormous. Whether objects, animals or humans, mascots bring us closer to products and services, allowing us to identify them immediately thanks to their omnipresent image. And, very often, our memory of that product or company is based around an amusing animal or an unforgettable character.

Frequently a caricature, a mascot can be embodied by a real person, like Ronald McDonald, or a cartoon character, like the Nesquik rabbit. Many companies use mascots to give a friendly face to their brand and win over the public. At their best, mascots are recognisable and memorable, and can be genuine celebrities in the collective conscience. They become the visual element most closely associated with a brand, and feature prominently on packaging, websites or social media profiles.

In this article, we explore what mascots are and why they are used so often in advertising. We then look at some of the world’s most famous examples, ones that are etched in our memories.

What is a mascot? A brief history.

A mascot is an object or being (animal, character, animated object) that represents a group, entity or company. First used by French poet Frédéric Mistral in the 19th century, the word “mascot” is derived from the Provençal “mascoto”, which originally meant “fate”. And the first job of a mascot is to bring luck. By warding off ill fate, this imaginary character protects and brings success. As well as its historical function as a good-luck charm, a mascot is a device for achieving immediate psychological identification. It’s a highly effective tool for giving a warm, human side to an institution, product or concept.

According to semiologist Jean-Claude Boulay: “A mascot can convey affection through personification and inspire trust by creating a connection and a bond”. In other words, in an individual’s subconscious, a mascot creates a positive attitude towards the thing it represents. An integral part of a visual identity, mascots are ideal for promoting a brand, cementing it in the minds of consumers and bringing it to life through a story or personality.

A powerful marketing tool

The mascot is by no means a new marketing technique. For years, brands have sought to associate their image, product and name with mascots. Long before modern marketing and the Internet, brands used mascots in advertisements so they could keep ad copy to a minimum: the mascot did the talking. And with the advent of digital billboards, mascots have seen a resurgence in the marketing world. Thanks to 3D technology, new mascots have appeared with modern designs that promise new relationships with consumers.

Sports mascots first began appearing at major events in the sixties, starting with Willie the lion at the 1966 World Cup. Then came Waldi: created by graphic designer Elena Winschermann for the 1972 games in Munich, this multicoloured sausage dog was the first-ever official Olympic mascot.

Waldi, the first-ever official Olympic mascot, was created for the Munich games in 1972.

Famous mascots from around the world

Does your company seem boring? If so, it’s time you gave it an appealing image! And a mascot can be the right solution. A good mascot has to be attractive with easily identifiable character traits. And it should be in keeping with your brand identity and emphasise the quality of your product or service.

Let’s check out some of the best-known mascots.

The Duracell bunny: A pink rabbit with boundless energy

Created in 1973 by New York ad agency Dancer, Fitzgerald and Sample, the defining feature of Duracell’s iconic mascot is its endless energy. Initially, this little pink bunny just played a drum. But, thanks to its long-lasting alkaline batteries, it has gone on to do almost every sport – including skiing, kayaking, boxing, marathon running, and football – in an advertising saga that has achieved cult status. In 2019, Duracell launched its new Power On campaign in which the pink bunny talks! Today, the Duracell bunny is one of the most recognisable mascots in the world.

Credits: Duracell

Ronald McDonald, the world’s most famous clown

Everyone knows him! Ronald the clown – with his white face, bushy red hair and yellow overalls – first made his debut in Washington in 1963 at the opening of a new McDonald’s restaurant, and has promoted the brand around the planet ever since. As popular as Santa Claus, he has won the loyal following of generations of kids and grown-ups.

Ronald McDonald, the official mascot and main brand ambassador for McDonald’s. Credits: McDonalds.fandom.com

Mr. Clean: born to help with the housework

The story of Mr. Clean dates back to the fifties. At the time, a certain Linwood Burton owned a company that cleaned US Navy ships (with products that were toxic, corrosive and dangerous for the health of his employees). Linwood, who had some knowledge of chemistry, wanted to change all this and create a new formula that could replace these harmful products. And so Mr. Clean was born! For the international market, the product name is frequently translated into the local language, giving us “Mr. Propre” in France, “Don Limpio” in Spain and “Meister Proper” in Germany.

Credits: garcon.magazine.com

Bibendum, the Michelin Man

Better known as the “Michelin Man“, Bibendum is one of the world’s most recognisable brand mascots. French born, the idea for Bibendum came to the co-founder of the company, Édouard Michelin, at the 1894 Lyon World’s Fair, when he noticed that a pile of tyres looked like man without arms. It wasn’t officially drawn until 1898 by the caricaturist O’Galop, who gave him appealing and reassuring features. Bibendum celebrated his 120th birthday in 2018.

The name Bibendum (you can call him “Bib”) comes from a line borrowed from the work of Roman poet Horace: “Nunc est bibendum“, or “Now is the time to drink“. It’s a reference to one of the company’s first French slogans, “le pneu Michelin boit l’obstacle” (literally, “The Michelin tyre drinks up obstacles”). At first, Bibendum looked like a rich man (with his monocle, cigar, signet ring and cufflinks: symbols of the only social class that could afford a car at the time), but over the years, as the price of cars dropped, he has increasingly come to resemble an average person.

You can watch a video explaining the history of Bibendum here!

M&M’s, Red and Yellow

Created in 1971, the characters Red (a chocolate M&M) and Yellow (a peanut M&M) are two mascots with their own distinct personalities: they appeal through their mischievous antics, conveying a less corporate image of the brand with their entertaining (mis)adventures. In the case of M&M’s, mascots have licence to diverge from the core brand image. That’s why, if you have a formal corporate image, you can use a casual and cool mascot to present a less uptight one. It’s an excellent communication strategy for developing likeability.

Check out this ad for the M&M’s Chocolate Bar!

Asian mascots

Although there are no official figures, it’s thought that there are over 2000 mascots in Japan. In the mid-noughties, many tourist destinations realised that mascots were the perfect promotional tool. At the time, the country was in the middle of a craze for “kawaii“, a style emphasising cuteness that will be familiar to anyone who reads manga. It’s the blend of this new trend and the old mascot tradition that explains why the today the archipelago is littered with these cute characters. There’s even a special term for them, “yuru-chara “, which literally means “laidback character“. The first to achieve major success was Hikonyan, a cat with a samurai helmet created in 2007 to promote Hikone Castle. Soon afterwards, countless towns, tourist attractions and local governments jumped on the bandwagon. Prisons even designed their own mascots!

Hikonyan, the mascot for the city of Hikone, Japan. Credits: Tumblr

Mascots have become entertainment in themselves. They bump celebrities off the front pages of magazines and have TV programmes made about them. Seen from abroad, the success of yuru-chara and the 15 billion pounds worth of revenues generated from associated merchandising each year fascinates and inspires. Indeed, the United States has even invented a mascot called Tom, a bespectacled jellybean, to promote studying in America to Japanese students. But at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, Japan’s status as mascot champions will face a strong challenge from the Chinese hosts. There, Bing Dwen Dwen, the cheery panda dressed in ice, will be the official mascot embodying the strength and passion of the athletes and tasked with fostering Olympic spirit.

Bing Dwen Dwen: the mascot for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. Source: olympic.org

We can’t forget NBA mascots…

Mascots have a long tradition in American sports. Characters like Bango (Milwaukee Bucks) and Benny the Bull (Chicago Bulls) have won over generations of fans. And nowhere are mascots more attractive and visible than in professional basketball. The game-day experience in an NBA arena – with the bright lights, numerous stoppages and proximity of fans to the court – make it the perfect stage for an energetic artist in a garish costume.

When it comes to the NBA, entertainment is always a top priority for the league and its franchises. It’s not enough to have the best players in the world perform in front of you, you also need the funniest mascots in the NBA to give fans a unique experience.

NBA mascots. Source: LeBasketographe

Using your mascot for effective communication

Once you’ve decided on your mascot, you need to give it visibility so that your customers see the character. It’s important to associate your mascot with your logo to ensure it’s in people’s line of sight. Whether it’s an animal, a human, an object or something inspired by the product itself, a mascot brings advantages in terms of emotional attachment, as well as commercial benefits. Remember to incorporate your mascot into your communication materials, such as packaging, flyers, banners, etc. To do so, you can use the printing services of Pixartprinting. What’s more, you can also use your mascot for storytelling about your brand. This will satisfy your fans and help bring customers closer to your brand. Lastly, for greater visibility, make sure your mascot features in your social media profiles and banner ads.

Over to you!

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