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Brand mascots and ambassadors in the digital age

While both can bring value to a brand, having them together in the same creative may confuse the audience, say experts.

By  Kashmeera SambamurthyNov 8, 2022 10:10 AM
Brand mascots and ambassadors in the digital age
In digital as well as offline media, there is a huge amount of clutter due to the presence of numerous brands. A mascot helps differentiate. It may represent a group, a thought, or a product. It infuses life into a brand.

In fiscal 2022, a total of 9,103 bank fraud cases were reported by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) across India. Digital marketing agency Kinnect took note of this piece of news. When they started work on HDFC Bank’s ‘Vigil Aunty’ campaign last year, Kartikeya Tiwari, the agency’s national creative director (NCD) was sure that he wanted to humanise this key customer concern, and thereby improve the bank’s equity in the consumer’s mind.

That’s how Vineeta aka ‘Vigil Aunty’ was born, portrayed by Anuradha Menon of Lola Kutty fame — who takes on the challenge of putting an end to fraud.

“All mascots are characters, but not all characters are mascots. A character appearing in one commercial cannot be labelled as a mascot. Vigil Aunty is a character as well as a mascot, and she will represent the philosophy of the brand for a longer period,” said Tiwari.

Be it Madhuri Dixit Nene relishing Ram Bandhu pickles and papad, or Sara Ali Khan raising awareness about HPV, well-known personalities have often been engaged to communicate brand values / the product proposition.

To keep up with changing consumer behaviour, in 2009, Onida replaced its iconic ‘Devil’ with a married couple in its TVCs. In 2002, Asian Paints replaced its mascot Gattu with its logo. Currently, its brand ambassador is international badminton star PV Sindhu.

But, a legacy like Amul’s moppet continues to entertain the nation with her cheeky one-liners, and the Parle-G baby still evokes a certain nostalgia among consumers of this brand of biscuits.

We also have instant coffee brand Sleepy Owl’s Cheeky Owl mascot, and mattress brand SleepyCat’s Sleep Guru, Zie, to name a few. So how powerful can mascots be?

“In digital as well as offline media, there is a huge amount of clutter due to the presence of numerous brands. A mascot helps differentiate. It may represent a group, a thought, or a product. It infuses life into a brand,” said Jagdeep Kapoor, CMD, Samsika Marketing Consultants.

Digital media and brands

Scrolling through the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts of Parle-G, which features posts on people enjoying their tea and Parle-G, videos on festivities, etc., we see that the legacy the brand is trying to keep up with the times. Mayank Shah, Sr. Category Head, Parle Products, believes that interactive content in the user’s preferred platform helps connect with the user.

Kapoor values digital media, especially social media and OTT platforms, for their commendable reach, with the added advantage that they can be relatively cheaper to advertise on.

Tiwari thinks that as social media is a medium of expression, brands need to experiment with a variety of content, else the audience may get bored of their creatives. As per a media report, when Amul releases a topical advertisement (ad), the online comments helps the team at ad firm daCunha Communications understand the audience better and improve with every ad.

The making of Vigil Aunty

When a message is delivered with a twist of humour, the chances of acceptance are higher. “We warmed up to the idea of introducing a character who is a friendly neighbourhood aunty from a middle-class household. To make it interesting, we thought that she should also be a superhero. That led to questions like, what would her mission be? What are her super-powers?,’’ said Tiwari.

But the inherent fear for any agency or brand is whether people will warm up to the mascot.

When Kinnect went live with the origin story of Vigil Aunty, people thought that a web series was coming up. This told Kinnect that Vigil Aunty was being noticed. “With each airing on social media (SM) platforms, the viewership numbers have just gotten better,” added Tiwari.

Pros and cons of a mascot

In the early 1960s, when literacy levels in large parts of India was not high, the illustration on Parle-G’s packet helped people recognise the biscuit brand, positioned as a tasty and a healthy snack for children. The mascot, a sweet two-three year old girl, helped convey the same.

In due course, the product became popular and the packaging was widely recognised by the masses. This led to its own set of problems. Smaller brands tried to imitate the packaging and pass themselves off as Parle-G.

This kept Parle’s lawyers busy for nearly 20 years, from the 1970s to the 1990s. However, the imitators could never reap success. Shah said: “The mascot helped consumers differentiate between the original and the fake.”

Vithal Venkatesh Kamat is the CMD of Kamat Hotels. Since there are many eateries called Kamat, Vithal’s caricature is incorporated in the branding as a differentiator. Even an international brand like KFC uses a caricature of its founder, Colonel Sanders, in its branding. “This is one reason why mascots help a brand both in the digital as well as physical worlds,” Kapoor added.

When you can consider a mascot

There are three factors brands must consider before onboarding a mascot, says Kapoor. “First, is a mascot relevant to the brand, the category, or to the product? Second, is it unique — it cannot be a copy of some other brand. Third, does it connect with consumers? If any of these aspects are missing, a brand must not come up with a mascot,” he added.

Continuity and consistency are a prerequisite when it comes to creating a mascot. Over the years, marketing and advertising professionals have primarily dealt with the two Ms: the message and the medium.

Kapoor says that a third M, the mascot, should also be considered. The three Ms together culminate in the big M — memorability. Mascots need to be considered as a permanent entity, he added.

Brand strategist Ambi Parameswaran seconds this. “The brand needs to decide the approach to be taken. Then the role of the mascot, and how it would add value, needs to be figured out. For example, in the case of Nippon Paint, its mascot ‘Blobby’ adds distinctiveness to its advertising," he said.

Air India’s Maharajah, which was discontinued in 1989, was reinstated in 1991. “Why did the mascot make a comeback? Because consumers connected with the brand through the Maharajah, who gave the brand an aura of Indian royalty and luxury,” explained Kapoor.

Do hybrid models work?

Shah said that in the case of his low-priced, high-volume mass product, an ambassador would add no significant value.

“Your pack is your best advertisement channel. If brands desire instant recognition, and want to highlight certain attributes which people can connect with, then ambassadors should be considered,” he added.

Recently, plant-based meat manufacturer GoodDot had launched its national ad campaign featuring both its brand ambassador, the athlete Neeraj Chopra, and its mascot, GoodDo, a goat. Kapoor feels that having both a brand ambassador and a mascot could confuse the target audience.

However, Kapoor says that RBI’s ads, featuring both its mascot Money Kumar, and superstar Amitabh Bachchan, work well.

A few years back, film star Salman Khan was the ambassador of Thums Up, while superstar Shah Rukh Khan represented Pepsi. Now, Shah Rukh Khan represents Thums Up, and Salman represents Pepsi. Kapoor feels this too could create confusion among the audience.

First Published on Nov 8, 2022 10:09 AM