Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

Brand Characters: Top Three Terrific and Terrible Examples

As technology continues to develop our attention span will deteriorate, and in some cases it already has started. Your company has one shot to attract customers’ attention on television. What’s your strategy?

Chances are you figure that the more unique (i.e. obnoxious) your ad is, the higher chance your customers will remember it. But what are the reasons they’re remembering it? They may not be remembering your ad because it’s ground-breaking or because you got the targeting just right. Nope, they may be remembering your ad exclusively because you have an obnoxious character in it.

You figure, “well, who cares as long as they’re remembering the ad and my company?” Being able to recall a brand’s name doesn’t mean a customer will buy from you. Anyone can rattle off hundreds of company’s names without giving too much thought to it, but what are the reasons?

For all those companies out there looking to use a character in their brand’s advertising, can I offer up some advice? Take a look at some of the most popular and most despised characters in advertising through the years and try to only mirror the good examples.

Timeless Examples:

Check out those Clydesdales!

Budweiser’s Clydesdales: Anheuser-Busch has been producing Budweiser beer since 1876. This fact shouldn’t startle anyone because some of their most classic commercials feature their iconic Clydesdales bringing wagons full of their brew to the local watering hole. What makes these horses so recognizable is the fact that no other company uses them for their advertising, even today. I’m sure back in the late 1800’s when horse and wagon was the only mode of transporting items they were quite commonplace. Nowadays though? They’re special and unique.

McDonald’s Ronald McDonald: There’s a lot McDonald’s does that people don’t agree with (like their breakfast hours, but when it comes to their mascot, I have to give them some props. Old Ronald has certainly seen some changes over the years (his original TV debut) but children and adults still instantly recognize him. Whether he’s selling hamburgers in 1963 or apple dippers in 2012, he certainly grabs your attention and you can’t help but keep your eyes glued to the screen.

Mmm, tasty and makes us remember our childhood? Brilliant!

Mars’ M&Ms: Who thinks back on the television shows they watched as a kid and can’t remember a single commercial without M&M’s ‘Red’ or ‘Yellow’ making an appearance? Whether it was Christmastime and they were meeting Santa or playing a rousing game of ‘Go Fish’ they were there during our childhood in some shape, way or form. These loveable and laughable characters have been around since 1954 and since then they’ve been proving to us that they may not melt in our hands, but they sure melt our hearts.

Examples we wish hadn’t had time wasted creating them:

Burger King’s King: I would love to have been sitting in the meeting when Burger King decided to have a man wearing a plastic mask dressed up as a king run around and hawk hamburgers or cheeseburgers at usually unsuspecting people. They really could have done a lot with him, a la Ronald McDonald. However, they made him creepy and mute. Worst yet, they kept him around for 8 years. Someone finally came to their senses though and sent the “King” packing. He brought too many questions to mind; why didn’t he talk? Did he smell like their Flame body spray? If I eat there will he surprise me too? Not an effective character to get new consumers enthused about eating there.

Mucinex’s Mr. Mucus: I can rarely make it through a Mucinex commercial featuring Mr. Mucus without gagging- he’s essentially a booger. And that’s who Reckitt Benckiser Group (the makers of Mucinex) decided would be the best mascot to attract consumers. I don’t know if the stuff helps or not, I just can’t get past the name or the mascot to swallow the pill.

So easy a caveman can do it. Really?

Geico’s Cavemen: What does a caveman have to do with auto insurance? Beats me, I was hoping you knew. Geico uses the Neanderthal-like cavemen in some of their ads to boast about how easy it is to sign up for insurance with them via their website. The second biggest question I have regarding these characters is why their tagline has to be, “So easy, a caveman could do it”. Why a caveman? Why not kittens or babies or an elderly man, if someone my grandfather’s age could easily sign up for car insurance through a website I’d be sold that instant! There’s nothing unique or really even funny about them to make them memorable. Such a shame their ABC show was cancelled before the infamous Writers Guild of America strike ended.

Why the good are “good”:

  • The “good” characters aren’t in every single commercial. When a new ad comes out featuring them, it’s kind of like “Oh, haven’t seen these guys in a while,” and chances are consumers will watch. It’s easy for characters to grate on our nerves and make us want to change the channel every chance we see them. Let us miss these characters before you start using them in a new commercial every two weeks.
  • They tie their brand to a certain theme that customers can connect with on a deeper personal level. Their ads aren’t just an excuse to watch the “King” run into a wall or watch a singing booger. They make us feel a certain way, whether it’s nostalgia of watching the same M&M Christmas commercial for the past ten years or feeling a connection with the clydesdales because that’s probably the same scene our great-great-grandparents saw when they were alive.
  • They’re not trying to create the next big thing. They go for classic and timeless ideas instead of going for a cheap laugh. Give your customers a little credit and give your brand a mascot that doesn’t only make seven year old boys giggle.

Don’t get discouraged and think that the best ideas have already been created. The perfect character for your advertisment is still out there waiting for you to imagine it! Get going and get to thinking about that character that will encompass everything you want your brand to stand for.

What do you think of these examples? Can you think of any more good examples or any more bad examples? How persuasive do you think a talking booger is? Sound off below!

Image Credits to: jonesdlwa, pioneerpeststl, Benson Kua, pointnshoot.


Bubba is the Quality Logo Products mascot. He may have started out as "just a stress ball," but he's come a long way since the company's launch in 2003. Bubba has been immortalized in numerous vector artwork designs for internal and external promotions, and you can see him change outfits on the Quality Logo Products homepage whenever a holiday rolls around. Oh, and he thinks pants are for the birds. You can connect with Bubba on


  1. Alex Brodsky

    While I whole-heartedly agree that the Burger King King is the worst advertising strategy in the history of the world, I differ SLIGHTLY from you on the Geico Cavemen.

    When Geico first started that marketing campaign, I just about died laughing every time I saw those commercials. It was a unique take, the commercials were short (usually two 15-second ones strung together in one 30-second spot), and it got Geico’s message across.

    However, the schtick didn’t evolve well, and the jokes got tired after a while. The failed sitcom was flat out the worst idea for a television show ever (and that’s including “Joey”), I’m really just surprised it didn’t come from NBC.

    The campaign disappeared for a while, but in recent months, seems to have been revived. I’m not sure if this strategy is going to pay off for Geico, but if anything can get them away from that STUPID Geico Gekko, I’m all for it.

    • Amy Swanson

      I really liked the length of the cavemen commericals, you’re right that even though they were two 15-second ads strung together they got their message across. For me, they just got really tired really fast.

      I’m convinced they changed the gekko’s voice at some point, it doesn’t sound the same as when he first made an appearance. Telling people this tough usually just gets me confused looks and shrugs.

      • Alex Brodsky

        Probably did. They’ve made him sound more pretentious.

        Obviously the people in charge of Geico had a bad experience with the Brits and are making them seem like obnoxiously pompous.

        That’s petty revenge, Geico.

        • Amy Swanson

          Haha, exactly! He used to be British and now he’s more Australian. Which, maybe makes more sense? Is that where gekkos are from? I don’t know, but I prefer the British version more.

          Thanks for clearing that confusion up, Alex 🙂

  2. Mandy Kilinskis

    I think that Mayhem is one of the best brand characters around right now. He’s funny and has given an instant association to Allstate.

    As for Mr. Mucus, he’s pretty gross. However, Mucinex does work very well. I’d prefer if they’d advertise without him, though.

    • Amy Swanson

      Mayhem is amazing, Allstate really did a fantastic job with that character. A friend of a friend works for Allstate in their marketing department and he’s met the actor (Dean Winters) and he says that he’s exactly like the character in real life. Just that real quick wit and sense of humor. I love Mayhem even more knowing that someone is actually like him in real life!

      I honestly can’t even think about the Mucinex booger without gagging – blahhhh! It’s getting worse!!!!

      Thanks for the comment, Mandy 🙂

  3. Rachel

    The “good” characters aren’t in every single commercial. — This seems to be a major part of separating the good brand characters from the bad. Less is more; if you exploit that brand character too often, he/she isn’t special anymore, and the interest fades.

    And I totally agree about the Mucinex character. Gross!

    • Amy Swanson

      Thanks for the comment, Rachel! I love when characters make special appearances instead of being in. every. single. commercial. Ugh. Drives me nuts! Glad to know I’m not the only one out there 😉

      Glad we’re also on agreement about Mucinex: good product, but horrible character.

  4. Eric

    McDonald’s will forever crack me up. The Hamburglar? Okay, makes sense. May McCheese? Uh, yeah, why not. Birdie? Don’t you fry those things and serve them to eat at your restaurant? Uh…well, how about Grimace? A wha? What’s a “Grimace?!?!” Nothing says quality, affordable burgers and fries like a giant fuzzy gumdrop that talks.

    As for which of the aforementioned characters were memorable and had staying power, I think that will speak for itself.

  5. Eric

    Ergh. Mayor McCheese*

    • amy

      Your comments always make me laugh, Eric! They have quite a collection of characters that are probably best to stay in retirement instead of making a comeback anytime soon 😉

      ‘Grimace’ always confused me, when you grimace isn’t it a negative look? Like you’re disgusted? Why would you name a character after that??? Ohhh, Mickey D’s, you’re so silly.

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