A rose by any other name would smell as sweet


In this project I am  challenged by terminology and definitions; what should I call the objects that I am studying. And I am not the only one, because when I read about characters and mascots, there is confusingly many terms and names. Are they:

Brand characters

Brand mascots

Adverticing characters

Brand icons

Trade characters

Adverticing spokes-creatures

Stephen Brown sums up the problems about defintions in his article: Animal house: Brand mascots, mascot brands and more besides

I like the term mascot, because that is easy to explain, whereas when you say brand characters you need to explain that it’s not ‘actors’ like Mickey Mouse; Kermit or Minions (unless they are advertising something else than their own movies). But on the other hand mascots tend to be associated more with sports (at least danes think so…)


But I guess that what matters is what something is, not what it is called.

a trade character is a fictional, animate being or animated object that has been created
for the promotion of a product, service or idea

Callcott and Lee, Establishing the Spokes-character in Academic Inquiry: Historical Overview and Framework for Defintion, Advances in Consumer Research 22, 1995.

So I am relying on Callcotts definition and have decided to call them brand characters and is thinking about changing the subtitle of my project to: why and how to design brand characters

But Brown is also pointing to another problem that has has been keeping me awake at night (well, not literally keeping me awake, but yes challenging me) because there seem to be different roles for brand characters or different ways to relate to their brand:

He distinguishes between (the first two categories being by far the most common and relevant distinctions for my study):

Brand animals, where the animal is more an attachment than an intergrated part of the brand



Classic brand mascots support the brand and is deeply integrated into culture and values in the brand in a loyal and faithfull way



Mascot brands – when the mascot is overshadowing the brand


Or even more rare: Animal brands – when beasts become brands themselves


(did you know that Grumpy cat is a real cat known for it’s non-smiling facial features and is an internet celebrity with more than 7 million likes on Facebook! – and it has for example been on the cover of the Wall Street Journal)


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)


Characters with a social media profile


The news have travelled around the world: Kermit and Miss Piggy is getting a divorce!

It has caused rather strong reactions – on social media, in articles and so on. The divorce and the media covering of it has been compared to the break up of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston.
And Kermit is now proclaimed as the bad guy because he found a new girfriend. People are reacting just like if Kermit and Miss Piggy were real people.


The news was announced on the couples Twitter and Facebook profiles.


Muppets and other characters that are having an independent life  – including social media identities – outside the film, the game or tv show in which they are appearing is not something new.

Also brand characters (that differs from for example The Muppet show muppets by representing or marketing a brand – and not being a part the product itself) tend to get an independent life outside their brand and treated as if the were real persons.

Consider for example Ronald McDonald attending group terapy with his fellow mascot-collegues:

Ronald: “I’m a burger mascot and everybody hates me.”

All: “That’s OK, Ronald.”

Ronald: “I can’t even believe I’m here. I thought I was well liked. Now I’ve become some kind of childhood obesity villain.”

Big Boy: “If anyone should be that, it’s me, Ronald. I’ve been portly since 1960. Chubby was cute back then. …

Brand Mascots become villains: Group therapy with Ronald McDonald, Davis Taylor, Central Penn Business Journal, 2011

Brand characters also have social media profiles.

And that is quite logical since a recommendation when designing a brand character is to give the character a distinct personality and avoiding wearout by keeping the character modern.

So giving a brand character a life of it’s own on social media might be a good idea.

But be aware. In her article 5 Ways to Create Brand Mascot Content That Doesn’t Suck Becca Frasier writes about the pitfall mascots with social media accounts face (they ‘can easily feel spammy or fivolous) and she presents ideas on how to manage the situation:

  • Share user generated content
  • Have a sense of humor and sport a unique personality
  • Engage with fans

See for example the Twitter profile of the M&M’s or the campaign for Matilde chocolate milk that I mentioned in a previous post, which has been taking a new and more humorous direction:


The blessing of a new book


Last week a new book was delievered at my desk – and what a thrill. There are so few publications about character design in branding, but my new book is, and even better it is about one of my favourite subjects: japanese characters.

Title: Character design now. Effective characters in advertising, promotional tool, packages and logos.

My reaction must have been strong, because my colleague remarked: ‘It has been a long time since I’ve seen a person being so happy about a book’


Gif seen on Etlen

Flicking through the book gave many experiences. In Japan they are really very fund of characters. There is a character for every occation and brand.




And I can’t even read the book since it is written in japanese (luckily it mostly consists of pictures), but that left me wondering very much about what is going on in this last picture. Detail below:


The happiest people in the world


#iseefaces – every day next to my desk at the office (One of them I think is even winking at me…)

The official world happiness report tells us that danes are happy. Happier than most others.


And why? We have a great work-life balance, we have the concept ‘hygge’ (spending time together in a cosy atmosphere), wellfare, security and we trust each other. We salute being naive in the good way.

But could there be another explanation? Or a new aspect to the the reasons why we are happier in Denmark?

As you know from my previous blogpost The power of kawaii! cute makes you happy and  seing happy faces have a positive impact on your mood. Recently I came across an interesting observation that might have an impact on danish happiness:



I think the picture is meant as a joke and I found it on the Facebook page of the danish electricity federation – but seriously if it makes you happy to look at happy faces –  just think about how many times a day you see wall suckets?



I am a grain of sand

A grain of sand to the mountain of knowledge


If all the knowledge in the world is equivalent to a mountain – say like Mount Fuji (why Fuji? well because I have been to see it earlier this year, and because it is so beautiful and big – but I must admit not even among the 100 biggest mountains in the world) – my contribution can be compared to a grain of sand.


Grains of sand under a microrscope

But that is not bad at all if you zoom in on the beauty and uniqueness of grains of sand.

The other day my reasearch colleagues and I attended a small workshop on academic research methods: literature review and constructing research questions, where we were presented to that picturesque metaphor.


Writing my research question on the board – before having feedback.

And in the proces of formulating my research question that reflects my project, I have come to this point in my process:

Which steps must

a guide to designing brand characters

consist of?

So this is the question my project is aiming at answering.


Is it childish?

Often when I explain about my research project I meet the reaction, that brand characters are for kids. Ie.: That it is not serious business, that respectable brands do not have a character etc.

No one can really imagine Mærsk having a jolly character. Or am I mistaken?


And of course there could be many ways to humanize af viusual identity


One of the aspects of brand character design I am investigating is the question:

Is it suitable or relevant for all types of brands to have a character?

When I take an overview of the landscape of brand characters it seems as if the majority of brand characters belongs to brands related to hedonistic products: ie. food, entertainment, leisure activities.

I also see a tendency that many brands apparantly have kids as their target group when designing and using their character. And that is also supported by research that show that children are more likely to anthropomophize. So children may be more susceptible to brand characters in general. And they may also be more hedonistic.


But as one of the masters of character design (Walt Disney) remarks here, there is a child in all of us.

Examples of brand characters targeted a grown-up audience:


Wine label by Brosmind for Vintae


Yojiya – japanese cosmetics company and coffee shop


GLS pakkeshop


Osprey Brewing Company

I am social – therefore I create characters

JOAQUIN PHOENIX as Theodore in the romantic drama


Are you in love with your OS? Are you talking to your computer? telling it off mayby?  Are you having conversations with your dog? Or do you think your cat looks grumpy?


Then you might be anthropomorhpizing!

As established previously  ‘anthropomorphism is the act of perceiving humanlike characteristics in either real or imagined nonhuman agents’

In my pursuit to investigate the power of brand characters and the reasons why we use them – I have travelled into new an unknown territory and been reading this article about cognitive psychology  to understand more about the underlying compulsion to anthropomorphize.:

Akalis, Scott et al., When we need a human: Motivational determinants of anthropomorphism,  


And to learn more about it we can begin with turning to Aristotle and an eternal ‘truth’

The only critical ingredient in the recipe for supreme happiness is other people


It is a human condition to be dependent on other people: ‘People need other humans in daily life for reasons ranging from the practicl to the existential, and we suggests here that this need is so strong that people sometimes create humans out of non-humans through a process of anthropomorphism.’ p. 143-144 (ibid)

We have two kinds of basic needs that can be linked closer to anthorpomorphism: the need for social connection and the need to experience competance.

Anthropomorphism can get out of control and become  extreme and unhealthy, but on a more reasonable and common level it is something we all do to some extend.

‘Some people anthropomorphize more than others, some situations induce anthropomorhpism more that others. Children do it more than adults, some cultures more than others.


But the study described in the article shows that the more lonely you feel, the more you anthropomorphize.

So it seems that a conclusion could be that deep down the motivation to create characters comes from our dependence on having other people in our lives.


For funny pictures of dogs looking like people – click here

*Akalis, Scott et al.,
When we need a human: Motivational determinants of anthropomorphism, 2008,
Social Cognition, p.143

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 – but it is also broader defined as a sentimental yearning after earlier and simpler times – often (but not always) it is a longing for childhood.

We love to recognize and revive positive experiences from the past – because 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! – and 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!

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