Brand mascots

Many months of preparing

First I researched for years and years and began this blog, then I wrote for more than six months, prof-read and prepared illustrations, which kept me so busy that there was little time for this blog. But now it is all finally coming together: right now the graphic designer is creating the layout- and this spring my book will be published. Keep and eye out it is coming soon ūüėČ


This is the first version of the cover page.


Example of a homemade illustration for the book. A member of the target group – the hipster designer type.


Preparing illustrations.

I have hand-drawn a large part of the illustrations myself. A surprisingly big challenge in the preparations for this book has been asking for permissions to use real brands characters in the book. Many big brands have said no, but fortunately some said yes.





Look me in the eyes


What happens when people look each other in the eyes?

Do you¬†get a glimpse of the other person’s soul? Do you feel closer¬†attached? Do you build trust?

If you think of the opposite situation, the feeling that¬†something is ‘wrong’ can grow if people avoid eye contact: Maybe¬†they are shy, maybe not willing to tell the truth, are indifferent about you and the situation or not mentally present.

On an interpersonal level, a lot of information can come from the gaze: Obtaining eye contact is often perceived as an invitation and as a sign of self-confidence.

But what about the effect of eye contact in the world of brand characters?

Is eye contact as important when it comes to brand characters as is between real life people?




A study of brand characters on cereal boxes done by Cornell University Food and Brand Lab shows that cereal producers clearly think that eye contact matters. On cereal boxes marketed for kids the gaze of the characters on boxes in 57 out of 86 cases are directed in an angle matching the young audience when passing by the shelves in the supermarket. On products directed towards adults the angle of the eyes are directed at a higher level.

As a result of that observation the researchers turned to the consumers and tested what cereal brand they trusted and felt the closest connection to. Trust and connection rose up to 28% when the character looked them straight in the eyes.


A recommendation for brand character designers who want to build trust and brand loyalty is to direct the gaze of the character at your target group since we seem to find reassurance and honesty in eye contact.


The golden age of American brand characters

A World of Characters: Advertising Icons from the Warren Dotz Collection from Jan Sturmann on Vimeo.

In this video, there is a rare chance to look into the past and see examples of characters that once populated ads in America. The collection was exhibited this year in San Francisco. And the collector is an important part of the research and data collection of brand characters.

Warren Dotz is a unique person in the strange realm of brand characters. He calls himself a pop culture archaeologist. He is specialized in American advertising; he is publishing books about classic American brand characters, and has a huge collection of brand figurines and other historic material.

Bonus info: Dotz is also a dermatologist with a clinic in Berkeley.


Examples of Dotz’s books.

If you are¬†looking for material¬†on brand characters – as I have been – and only found Dotz’s books, you would think that the development of¬†brand characters stopped in 1985. And peaked¬†in the 1950’s and 60’s.

I don’t think that‚Äôs the case. The problem is that Dotz is almost the only one collecting and publishing books about brand characters – and since he is specialising in a certain time and country – there is obvious limits to his study.

What is also interesting in the video is the strong emotional reactions people have to seeing all the faces – some familiar and nostalgic others are just reacting to the universal appeal in happy faces.

I especially adore the japanese girl who loves the cuteness and has visited the exhibition three times.

More bonus info that made me wonder:

Aunt Jemima is famous and still popular representing pancake related breakfast products,¬†she has been redesigned several times to look more modern. ¬†Much has been said about this old brand character (dating back to the 1890’s) and the connotations in relation to slavery and afro-american rights,


but did you know that Jemima once had a male counterpart called Uncle Mose, and that he was invented just to create salt AND pepper shakers shaped as Aunt Jemima and Uncle Mose as an advertising premium (Dotz and Morton, What a character!, p.10)

But imagine a subordinate ‘career’ like that. Standing in the shadow of the salt shaking Aunt Jemina. Talk about 15 minutes of fame.



Why do the Japanese love Irma?


Japan is far away from ¬†Denmark.You can’t – almost¬†– get any further away. As a child I always wondered why the Japanese¬†didn’t fall of the face of the earth; I imagined that they must be standing with their heads down on the other side of earth – because clearly my head was up.

In many ways Japan is far away from Denmark and Danish culture. Just think about language, food, behavior etc. So do we have anything in common at all?

Well yes, we do! A girl called Irma!


For several years the Japanese has been in love with Irma. It has been reported how tourists ask for the local Irma-stores when visiting Copenhagen Рand how they are buying stuff with her image on. Especially canvas totes.

Irma (called the Irma-girl or Irma-pigen in Danish) is an icon in Danish marketing and something that is regarded almost like national heritage i Denmark. She is the mascot of the supermarket chain Irma, that has anorganic focus and specializes in high quality products.

Irma is 108 years old and has been re-designed to her current look several times during her life.



And now here in November 2015 the Irma chain is making a promotion in Japan selling Irma and Irma-girl-accessories.


But if the Japanese are so different from us, why do they love our Irma?


When you visit Japan you can’t help noticing that they are crazy about characters – especially brand characters. Much more than we are used to in Denmark. It seems like every region, bigger city, tourist attraction¬†has a mascot¬†(which is a concept called yuru-chara)¬†but also¬†food brands, restaurants and many many products in general has a brand character.

The concept of kawaii (= cute) is japanese. They are experts in cuteness and are celebrating the childish and youthful.

A common image in Japanese anime culture and cosplay is the schoolgirl look.


And the Japanese love to wear these cute characters – so accessoires (teddy bears, prints, pins etc) are big business is Japan.

Japanese also celebrate classic minimalistic Scandinavian design Рthey for example adore Danish furniture design. Scandinavian design and classic Japanese design has very much in common in the formal style language.

Japanese love Irma because:

Irma is a young girl. She is innocent, a bit shy, and looking away from us.

Irma is stylish; she is simple, but elegant. She is classic in her colours and her clothes Рwithout being old fashioned. Irma is Scandinavian in her style.

And you can buy totes, biscuit tins etc (japanese love sweet stuff) with her image on.

She is everything a Japanese girl could dream of.


In the safari park of marketing







Safari means journey in swahili – and going on a safari in the world of brand characters will take you to all parts of animal kingdom.

But questions of categories soon arises and I have been wondering, how I will get an overview of all the ceratures and:

Can all types of creatures work as brand characters?

Are some creatures more popular than others?


And I have come closer to an answer, because I have been reading articles and books (okay only one book – ‘Brand Mascots and other marketing animals’) by Stephen Brown – and what a relief finally to find someone who writes about things that have been puzzling me in this study area. And he is also presenting arguments for taking this research area more seriously. Yes! – I’m not alone.

The popularity of brand characters are incontestable

Stephen Brown, Where the wild brands are, p. 215

Brown has a been collecting information about which kind of brand animals (a broad term that also includes humans, deities, extra-terrestrials, monsters, robots – and other objects that can be anthropomorphized) are most popular.

Brand animal popularity is directly related to the species’ physiological and psychological distance from humankind

Stephen Brown, Where the wild brands are, p. 215

21% human

19% bird

16% domestic

12% large wild

9% small wild

7% mythical

7% aquatic

4% insects

2% vegetable

1% body part (?)

3% other

(Stephen Brown, Where the wild brands are, p. 216)


Good vibes from the past – notes on nostalgia


Nostalgia is a term that keeps popping up when reading about character design. It seems to be important on several levels.

Nostalgia is originally a greek word and equals the term homesick Рbut it is also broader defined as a sentimental yearning after earlier and simpler times Рoften (but not always) it is a longing for childhood.

We love to recognize and revive positive experiences from the past Рbecause it makes us feel good. Human beings do have selective memories and thrives better when focusing on the happy and positive.

A study found that repressing embarassing memories for long enough can lead to us erasing them completely

The Daily Telegraph on Selective memories

So if a brand character succeeds in beeing able to give us that positive vibe from the past, we will love and trust them. And therefore characters that continuously are reinvented and re-introduced in successful ways can have a very long life.


The Michelin man is for example 121 years old.


And this girl might at first sight seem young, but Matilde, who is the mascot of Arla’s drinking chocolate is 45 years old. And although she is middle aged, she has just been center of attention for young girls¬†in a very popular social media campaign asking danish people to find girls looking like Matilde. For all of us who grew up with Matilde on the shelves in the supermarket and drikning the chocolate at birthday parties and for breakfast at weekends she is a nostalgic item.

And in the future Matilde will most likely also be present in the memories of all the girls participating in the competition:


Matilde look-alikes summer 2015  from the competion Jagten på Matildepigen on Instagram  #matildepigen

Nostalgia will favorably affect spokes-character trust

Niedrich, R. W.,Spokes-Characters: Creating trust and positive Brand attitudes

But there are other aspects linking nostalgia to brand characters. Last week I was discussing how cute characters affects us in my blogpost The power of kawaii! Рand I established that seeing cute stuff makes us happy.

Yesterday I read an article (Russell, L., T., M., A socio-marketing analysis of the concept of cute and its consumer culture implications – 2014 Journal of Consumer Culture) and the article suggests ¬†that¬†there is¬†a kind of escapism from real life in the widespread and growing attraction to and celebration of cuteness. Scientists who have studied the land of the cute (yes I’m talking about Japan) and the spreading of cuteness to the rest of the world say that:

Cute products attests to a rapidly expanding desire for cute, cuddly, reassuring comsumption experinces.

We seek out cute things when we need reassurance during stress

So cuteness is comforting us when the world is demanding. And how is this related to nostalgia? well dealing with the cute and celebrating it in an efford to partake some of the childhood’s simplicity, happiness and emotional warmth.

And taking it futher: ‘rebelllion from society in Japanese youth culture has developed into a rebellion from adulthood’ ¬†p.79. Japanese stay young by being cute.


Taking nostalgia to it’s logical conclusion: Adoring cuteness could very well be linked to this ‘moratorium mentality’ – a lack of desire to grow up!

Name dropping

Names are an important part of identity – but many brand characters are anonymous:


The apis bull representing Novo Nordisk – does it have a name?


The Starbuck mermaid?


Or this girl representing the company Minilån.

But on the other hand, many brand characters DO¬†have names, we just don’t know them:

Did you know that the cute Twitter bird is called Larry


That the guy representing Pringles is called Julius Pringles


Or that the mascot for Linux is called Tux


Do you trust him? – characters and positive brand attitudes


(‘Happy WAON’ – character for the japanese electronic money service Waon)

In my study of brand characters it is important for me to investigate what difference having a brand character makes for a brand. With my project I would like to be able to answer questions like:

Why is it relevant to have a brand character?

What is the effect of having a brand character?

To¬†find ¬†these answers I am reading studies on the matter. And several studies in the field of advertising and marketing is researching and testing hypothesis’ related to my questions.

For example this article by R W Niedrich called: Spokes-Characters: Creating Character Trust and Positive Brand Attitudes (Journal of Advertising 2004)

Characters appear to benefit brands by establishing brand identity and favorable brand associations

p. 25

And since everybody longs for consumers to perceive their brand in a positive way and to form a strong relation between consumer and brand, it is interesting reading.


What Niedrich concludes after testing 140 people’s relation to brand characters is that an emotional connection and trust is influences by certain characteristics:

A character is an expert

When consumers percieve a character to be an expert – ie. making product claims and repeatedly showing to possess knowledge about the product – the brand character is trustworthy.


Nostalgia is decisive – we long for the past

A nostalgic feeling in the consumer towards a brand character builds trust.


Relevance is of lesser importance when it comes to trust

On the other hand research showed that relevance between the character and it’s brand is of lesser concern. So a connection between the quality and characteristics of the brand does not necessarily affects trust.


New costumers are more affected by brand characters

The more experienced you as a consumer are with a brand the lesser effect the band character has on your attitudes towards the brand. And  Рof course Рthe more importance nostalgia has on the relation.

The antihero character!

A hero is a character, that convension (whoever that is…) has desided has qualities like courage, strength, idealism, morality etc.

An antihero is of course the opposite, ie. a character that lacks the normal heroic traits and is known for being unable, mediocre, weak, ridiculous etc. In other words the antihero is much more human. And in a way more real.

Examples of antiheros in film and literature and real life could be:


The overweight panda Po from the animation film Kung Fu Panda. Po is chosen to be master of Kung fu despite his obvius physical challenges – and seemingly un-coolness.

Or perhaps this guy – who is highly antiheroic in many of the parts that he is playing:


Or a character that all danes know: Gummi-Tarzan, who is bullied by stronger kids and also by his father for being a wimp.


In a brand mascot context, there are numeruos brand characters with overwhelmingly positive hero-like qualities:




But there are also brand characters who get famous for being antiheroic. Take for example the former brand character for the danish railroad company DSB, called Harry:


Harry is clumsy, stupid and since he is very much in love with his old car, and against travelling in trains, he is the ironic contrast to the customers in DSB trains. Harry appeared in DSB adds¬†for eleven years and was a great succes for DSB. Harry managed to change people’s attitude towards the company which was a great achievement.


Another example of an anti-hero character representing a brand is Aleksandr Orlov. Aleksandr is a russian meerkat – he runs the website Compare the Meerkat¬†and is very annoyed by people who mistakedly find his website instead of the website ‘compare the market’ where you can compare car insurances. Which is the real sender of the Aleksandr Orlov campaign.

Aleksandr is an aristocrat, he is interested in literature, has a strong russian accent and is a bit of a snob. He is surrounded by a set of characters for example his emplyee Vassily. You can meet Aleksandr online since he is both tweeting and has a facebook profile.


Like Harry, Aleksandr is not designed to be likable, positive and friendly, but is a succes because he is comical, an exagerated charicature and the whole campaign is an ironic approach to the general problem people have when spelling URL’s.

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