Brand Mascots: Why Change Isn’t Bad When Done Right
Congrats, your company has been going strong for 5o years, but now it seems like your customers are getting too old for your products! What can you do to reach younger consumers and get them engaged in your brand? Of course: update your mascot! If your brand mascot is the epitome of cool, then your brand is sure to survive another 50 years. Right?
It seems too many brands opt to change their outward image when their profits start to decline. One major way brands choose to change is by “updating” their mascot with the newest available technology. Some use this opportunity to give their mascot new life, and make changes to personality and look to appeal to their new target market.
However, just because a mascot likes to do or wear what is currently cool to the young generation doesn’t mean those consumers will jump at the chance to buy from that company.
Here are three different ways companies have updated their brand mascots, along with how well (or terribly) it worked for their brand.
Example: Chuck E. Cheese
The original Chuck E. Cheese started as a Jersey rat and was dressed much like a movie theatre usher.
In 2012, Chuck was redesigned once again, this time wearing skinny jeans and often carrying a guitar. His voice was replaced by the lead singer of Bowling for Soup.
This latest mascot change was part of a larger campaign to give the entire brand a make-over in an attempt to make up for the steadily dropping sales, but the mouse certainly got the most publicity. The company seemed to hope a new mascot — voiced by a popular singer, wearing jeans and converse, and playing guitar — would have kids pleading with their parents to visit the nearest Chuck E. Cheese.
The mascot himself didn’t seem to do so badly. A survey by E-poll asked kids if they liked the new and old versions of Chuck and there was only a 9% difference. 57% said they liked the old version of Chuck while only 49% responded they liked the new character.
However, parents are the people who hold the purse strings, and one commenter on this TIME article put it best:
“I like the new mouse but it isn’t going to convince me to bring my children there ever again. I took them once and the food was disgusting! Maybe if they put out an ad saying they’re making better pizza and I may actually give it another try. Until then they won’t be receiving any business from me.”
The irony is, Chuck E. Cheese Entertainment did introduce a “new” pizza, but it didn’t get enough publicity to change consumers’ minds and still ranked dead last in Nation’s Restaurant News Consumer Picks survey of 100 restaurants.
Example: Dora the Explorer
Dora the Explorer made her official debut in 1999, warming the hearts of tiny viewers and teaching them simple Spanish phrases. She is a brave and active 8-year-old who goes on an adventure in every episode to find or help someone. Dora became, and still is, a great role model for young children; she promotes active behavior, learns about others’ cultures, and stays calm and friendly in unfavorable situations.
Ten years later, in 2009, Mattel and Nickelodeon announced they were making an older (tween) version of Dora to go along with a new line of dolls. These were intended to target an older market than the show (which was a hit with preschoolers): older kids who had watched Dora when they were younger, which would help them grow with the character.
Parents of these older kids, however, were less than pleased with the idea.
When the first silhouette was released, there was an uproar from parents.
You can easily see why there was such a strong response: the new Dora silhouette is posed runway-style, has hyper-thin limbs, is wearing a dress, and has long girly hair. This wasn’t the same Dora kids and moms knew. From the silhouette alone, it seemed like this was a completely new character rather than a grown-up version of the boyish, active and adventurous Dora kids grew up with.
To soothe parents and try to control the situation, Nickelodeon and Mattel released a color image and a statement that the old Dora wasn’t going anywhere.
Even when the full color version of Dora was released, Moms weren’t completely satisfied. The new Dora was still far more girly than they expected.
Example: The Kool-Aid Man
The Kool-Aid Man (first known as Pitcher Man) burst onto the scene to advertise his drink mix in 1954, after the brand was sold to General Foods. His first incarnation was simply a pitcher, but when Kraft Foods acquired General Foods, he officially became a “man.”
Over the years, the Kool-Aid Man has been updated gradually, but has kept his trademark red Kool-Aid core. He has gone naked and worn clothes, but he has always been a smiling pitcher ready to come to the aid of thirsty kids.
In early April, the Kool-Aid Man was updated once again to usher in Kraft Foods’ new Kool-Aid product, called Kool-Aid liquid drink mix. Digitized to look like a real pitcher (with arms and legs), the Kool-Aid Man also appeared on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in addition to the new commercials.
Instead of reinventing the personality developed throughout the years, these new ads simply built off the old and added personality to the Kool-Aid Man. One commenter on a Deal News article puts it best:
“I don’t really see how they changed the mascot here though. That is pretty much the Kool-Aid Man I have always known. I never knew how he got dressed. Now I do. What changed? He still smashed through the door.”
The main reason Chuck E. Cheese and Tween Dora were not big hits with consumers is because designers changed the core of the mascot consumers knew and loved. Previous fans now found it hard to relate to a new Chuck, who abandoned skating and now is a pint-sized guitar player. Moms and children who loved Dora as she was now found it hard to relate to the much girlier character.
But what were marketers missing? They tried too hard to make the characters into something kids would find cool, rather than letting the characters be themselves. As Jenna explains in her previous blog about cartoons, you can’t go viral (or become extremely popular) on purpose. Marketers need to just create high-quality characters and let them be loved for who they are.
This is what Kool-Aid did with the Kool-Aid Man. When updating his look to keep up with technology, Kool-Aid refused to change who their mascot was, and instead just added more depth to his personality and fictional life.
We share what we love. That is how videos, cartoons, and characters go viral and become more popular. When you change the core of a character fans love, they feel betrayed and won’t want to like the new character for fear it will be changed again as soon as they like it.
This is why the he is still succeeding in promoting his brand to this day. There is even a museum exhibit dedicated to the Kool-Aid Man to share his history with the world.
Do you agree with what is working/not working for these brands? What mascots or characters to you love? Let us know in the comments below!
Image credit to Beverly & Pack, BW Chicago, EclecticLibrarian, Forbes, and Nick Jr.’s press page.
Julie enjoys almost any creative outlet and isn't afraid to show off her geeky side. She can't help but love puns and witty banter, and she appreciates a well-crafted advertisement. She is a super fan of the Georgia Rae Family Band. Currently, Julie is looking for new ways to improve her Japanese.