The Michelin Man, Tony the Tiger, the Kool-Aid Man, Pringle’s mustachioed, disembodied head — otherwise known as Julius Pringle. There are plenty of big-name brands that have used brand mascots over the years to carve out a more recognizable brand identity.
For example, when consumers saw an anthropomorphized peanut with a top hat, monocle, and walking stick, they knew — without a doubt — that it was Mr. Peanut, the mascot of Planters.
In many ways, the 1950s-60s were “the golden age” of brand mascots. These two decades alone gave us KFC’s eponymous Colonel Sanders, Pillsbury’s Poppin’ Fresh, Cap’n Crunch Cereal’s iconic Captain Horatio P. Crunch, and so many more.
According to Crestline, “more brand characters were introduced during that era than in any other.” This was, in part, due to the fact that the “media landscape was much simpler… with print, radio, and television as the dominant vehicles for advertising.” During the 50s and 60s, and the years that followed, having a distinct brand mascot was a huge win for brands.
But as tastes and preferences evolved, some mascots didn’t stand up to scrutiny — and faded into obscurity. However, in the age of social media, brand mascots have been seeing a resurgence. In 2022 and beyond, well-executed mascots can play an important role in defining a brand’s identity.
Therefore, this article will discuss why some brand mascots disappeared, as well as the reasons behind brand mascots' recent surge in popularity. We’ll also take a look at three successful brand mascots who have withstood the test of time to see what other brands can learn.
Why Have Some Brand Mascots Disappeared?
Not every brand mascot has stuck around for the long haul. Whether their downfalls were due to internal decisions, loss of popularity, brand repositioning, or changing cultural attitudes — we lost many a brand mascot over the last 20 years.
Let’s take a look at a few who didn’t stick around.
1. Land O’Lakes’ Mascot: Mia — Changing Cultural Attitudes
In 2020, American brand Land O’Lakes quietly retired its mascot, named Mia. Depicted as an Indigenous American woman “wearing buckskin, beads, and feathers, holding a tub of butter aloft”, the original Mia was designed by artist Arthur C. Nelson.
In the 1950s, Mia was given an update by Ojibwe artist Patrick DesJarlait with the goal of fostering Indigenous American pride. However, over the years, many Indigenous American activists and citizens have understandably been upset by “symbols of the European-American narrative that ignores the genocide, disease, and cultural devastation brought to (their) communities”.
Along with other American brands that feature imagery of Indigenous Americans, Land O’Lakes finally decided to revamp their branding with something less controversial two years ago.
2. Burger King’s Mascot: The King — Negative Consumer Perception
In 2004, Burger King unveiled its newest idea, a plastic-faced mascot called “The King”.
That year, he was “featured in a range of TV commercials, where he would do some bizarre things such as sneaking up on customers, lurking outside their homes” or setting enormous piles of gasoline containers on fire.
He was, understandably, not well-received by the public, and, in 2011, Burger King found that their sales had declined by 6% — which was the nail in The King’s (metaphorical) coffin.
Shortly thereafter, The King was retired as the brand’s mascot and the advertising agency behind his creation, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, was let go.
Clearly, not every brand mascot is a home run, and Burger King found that its boundary-pushing choice of The King didn’t pay off.
3. Kellogg’s Mascot: Bigg Mixx — Never Caught On
Released in the early 90s, Kellogg’s Bigg Mixx was a combination of four different types of cereal — something that was sure to excite children everywhere.
With the cereal’s launch came the introduction of a new mascot, also named Bigg Mixx. Seemingly a combination of a pig, chicken, moose, and wolf, Bigg Mixx was supposed to represent the cool, hybrid nature of the cereal.
Ads that featured Bigg Mixx were silly and nonsensical, but they failed to connect with consumers and, sadly, Bigg Mixx was retired in 1992.
Why Are Brand Mascots Making a Comeback?
Over the last few years, brand mascots seem to have made something of a comeback. While big-name brands like Pringles released upgraded versions of their decades-old mascots — other famous mascots like the Pillsbury Dough Boy have made their successful debuts on social media.
For years, mascots added flavor and personality to brands’ ads — be it TV spots, print ads, or brand packaging. But with the rise of social media, many companies saw a new opportunity to make use of their brand mascots in creative and exciting ways.
So while big-time mascots like Ronald McDonald and Mr. Clean never went away per se, they did see a resurgence via social media over the past few years.
Let’s take a look at three brands that have managed to transform their mascots into social media sensations — and figure out what other brands can learn from them.
3 Highly-Successful Brand Mascots To Learn From
1. P&G’s Mr. Clean
Coming in at number one, Mr. Clean has been the mascot for P&G’s all-purpose cleaner since 1957. A consumer favorite for years, Mr. Clean now boasts his own quite popular Twitter account — with 30.1K followers.
On Twitter, Mr. Clean posts everything from product promotions to the brand’s humorous Superbowl ads to entertaining memes. He replies to his followers, tags other brands, and even mourned the loss of fellow brand mascot, Mr. Peanut, in 2020.
By creating a Twitter account ostensibly run by their well-loved mascot, P&G has succeeded at solidifying its brand personality and connecting emotionally with consumers.
Our Tip: If your brand has a mascot that’s been even moderately successful with consumers, consider the ways that you can incorporate it into your social media strategy.
Well-executed brand mascots add personality to companies and give them a distinguishable voice and face — which allow them to stand out among the competition.
2. Travelocity’s Roaming Gnome
Travelocity’s “Roaming Gnome” first appeared in the brand’s 2004 viral ad, appropriately called “Where’s My Gnome?”
Due to the popularity of the ad campaign and consumers’ instant love of said gnome, the Roaming Gnome become the de facto brand mascot of Travelocity shortly thereafter.
Interestingly, Travelocity hopped on the “give the brand mascot their own social media profile” bandwagon quite early. In 2007, the Roaming Gnome got his own MySpace account — later followed by a Foursquare account in 2010. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts came next.
In 2022, the Roaming Gnome has 196.4k followers on Twitter and 33.9k followers on Instagram. On both platforms, the Travelocity gnome posts fun, inventive images and captions, showing him traveling the world in style and luxury.
With these accounts, Travelocity is able to promote its services while connecting with consumers on a more personal level. Clearly, the Roaming Gnome is an evergreen brand mascot that has been a huge asset to his brand and a defining part of the company’s overall identity.
Our Tip: Sometimes, the best ideas come from unexpected places. Travelocity didn’t set out to invent a brand mascot. But when they saw how popular the Roaming Gnome was with consumers, he was quickly adopted as such.
Take a look at some of your brand’s most successful campaigns and see if there’s anything you overlooked that could lend itself to becoming your own brand mascot. Keep in mind, a brand mascot can really be anything — like an anthropomorphized paper clip or Koolaid jug — as long as it resonates with consumers.
3. Geico’s Gecko
The Geico Gecko’s roots also go back quite a few years, to when he first made his debut in a 2000 TV commercial. A fast fan favorite, the Gecko quickly become an advertising icon, going on to star in countless other commercials, print ads, and more.
The Gecko joined Twitter back in 2009, where he’s amassed an impressive following of 34K. More recently, he also joined Instagram in 2020 and has 28k followers. The Gecko uses both platforms to post memes, promote his merch, and even share Valentines with his followers.
On social media, the Geico Gecko is funny, engaging, on-trend, and creative. He has a distinct voice and personality, which lend the brand authenticity in the eyes of consumers.
And people love this Gecko — his posts and tweets get hundred of likes and replies. When looking at the types of content the Gecko posts on his social accounts, it’s a good mix of fun, silly content and that which directly promotes Geico.
Clearly, people follow the Gecko on social media because he’s entertaining, fun, and relatable — all qualities which consumers then associate with Geico the company as well.
Our Tip: If you’re going to use your brand mascot to drum up brand awareness and interest on social media, consider playing the long game. Don’t hop straight into posting a majority of promotional content.
Instead, build out your mascot’s personality, profile, and voice — give consumers a reason to follow its accounts and connect with it. That’s how you slowly but surely nurture potential customers.
Not every brand needs a mascot. There are definitely industries and companies where having a fun, quirky mascot would be deemed odd or inappropriate.
But for the brands that want to add humor and approachability to their list of brand associations, it may be time to come up with a brand mascot of their own.
Remember, a well-thought-out mascot bolsters brand personality, refines brand voice, and serves as a method to connect with consumers. So, keep in mind our tips and look to the successful examples we discussed as a jumping-off point.