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Print Design » Character Branding

While characters whose vocations revolve around pushing cigarettes or liquor are different animals from those endorsing breakfast cereal, some common denominators exist among the longest-lived brand personas. Although your next project may not be for a major player like the examples cited here, just thinking about your own experiences with brand mascots puts you in a better position to make good recommendations. So, let’s take a trip down Memory Lane and review what exact factors have made certain brand personalities last so long.

Each successful brand character has something to make them distinguishable from the sea of product- icon wannabes. In the case of illustrated or animated characters, they might have been developed in a unique style. If the character has a voice, it is typically memorable and identifiable. If movement is part of the character’s repertoire, more than likely the range of possible motion will be tailor-made and well-thought-out. All of these elements become part of the brand identification, just as consistent color and font usage combine to create a memorable corporate identity. The GEICO Gecko is a present-day popular icon that exemplifies the characteristics of a highly identifiable character.

While a goofy cartoon character can aptly sell snack cakes and cookies, a similar approach would not be as effective in the luxury auto category. Many brands have appropriately adopted no-brainer mascots—like Borden’s Elsie the Cow for dairy products—while other goods such as Energizer batteries take a seemingly unrelated image—the Energizer Bunny—and make it work. In nearly all instances, the successful mascot or character is carefully crafted, so as not to conjure up offensive images of the brand or its category.

It is important not to confuse “timeless” with “never-changing.” Indeed, many successful icons have developed or been updated over time. Some characters—like the Jolly Green Giant and Betty Crocker—have been around for more than 50 years, with each evolving to fit the times. Betty has had no fewer than eight facelifts, while the Giant adopted his sidekick Little Sprout in 1973. Even the Ad Council’s Smokey Bear has modified his original (1947) message “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires” to “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires.” When developing a new brand spokesperson or mascot, avoid being too trendy or potentially dated—unless continual evolution is part of the brand strategy.