Monday, 3 October 2016

Quite a Character

In previous posts, I've mentioned one or two of my favourite brand characters, such as the Michelin Man, and Mr Peanut, the Planter's character. Brand mascots or characters enjoyed quite a vogue in the first two thirds of the last century. And you can see why - a well-chosen character could encapsulate your brand values in a highly memorable and flexible form. The character could appear on the packaging, on billboards and metal signs, on promotional giveaways, on the radio and TV - and even make real life appearances.

Of course, the danger with brand characters is that they may become irrelevant, or even objectionable, as has happened with this little fellow:

In today's world, you would not assign your character a specific religion, as is the case with this chap:

Or associate him with a politically-incorrect sport:
Human and humanoid characters invariably become in need of a fashion update - at least according to the latest brand manager - although one may look back at 80s hairstyles and wish you'd left the characters in the timeless past somewhere.

Sometimes, the idea of the character survives, while the actual physical form becomes more symbolic, as has happened with Johnnie Walker's Walking Man (who I used to confuse with Force Flakes' Sunny Jim as a child. Luckily I didn't confuse the products!)

In the last few months, two characters who first appeared in the 1950s have had a revamp. KFC (founded in 1952 by Colonel Harland Sanders) has announced a rehaul of the brand under the banner 'Re-Colonelization.' It's a kind of back to the roots re-invention, with a push for quality and attention to detail: "The Hard Way") as well as various actors and comedians personifying the Colonel himself.

And another brand icon who hails from 1952 has been imbued with 'animatronic swagger', whatever that may be. Kellogg's Tony the Tiger is motivating tweenage kids to 'Let your Gr-r-reat Out' and think/act 'Like a Tiger.' As well as bearing some relation to what Nike and Always are doing, this was, of course a motivational technique deployed by Henry V, if Shakespeare is to be believed. Nice film, good sentiment, but not terrrrrrrribly original, I fear.

You can understand what these brands are trying to do. Decades-old brand characters do carry a potential richness of goodwill and positive association which it would be careless to lose.

Newer brands don't have this opportunity. The vogue for brand characters dwindled in the later years of the last century. In some ways it was 'Digital and Global killed the Brand Character'. Trying to create a new character who is understandable and acceptable to all, yet represents the brand's uniqueness, is not so easy these days. We have to think too much: just look at some of the truly dreadful creatures that have been spawned as mascots for the Olympic Games, or the World Cup, in recent years and you'll see what I mean.

But maybe, with the rise of grass roots local brands, the whole thing will go full circle again. Generally animals seem a better bet than human/oids as they don't need updating. I'll leave you with another of my all-time favourite brand mascots: Nipper.


Barbara Fisher said...

I love Nipper! Amazingly, I remember every single one of those ‘brand characters’ so that form of advertising obviously works. I’m sure you’ve seen the Go compare TV ads with the chap and his twirly mustache. They are truly awful but somehow unforgettable, and the theme tune goes around in my head for days if I hear even a tiny snatch of it.

Sue Imgrund said...

Thanks Barbara - and your comment has reminded me of the exception that proves the rule when it comes to less brand characters these days - as well as Go Compare, there are of course the CompareTheMarket Meerkats - which must have started creative life as just a funny mnemonic which sort of stuck.