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The (Burger) King's Speech: What Mascots Tell Us About Brands
By: Christine Turnier
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After seven years, Burger King is retiring The King. You know The King: this personification of the fast-food brand is known for popping up in the most unexpected places with burgers in hand, be it on a construction site, on a football field, or even your own bed.
 
As we mourn the passing of The King, let us take this opportunity to look at what brand mascots are, and what role they play in a brand’s marketing strategy.
 
To put it simply, these characters represent the brand. They can be serious, cute, or even subversive, but the best mascots all have the same things in common: they embody the brand’s personality, its values, and what it means to the audience the brand is trying to reach. To better understand how brands are using characters, let’s look a few.
 
Flo, the Progressive Girl

Flo has to be one of my favorite current brand mascots. She is upbeat, sincere, and helpful, and she is clearly working for Progressive. Flo made her first appearance in 2008 and has since starred in over 50 commercials. She also has a substantial fan base on social media.
 
Why does this work? Buying car insurance can be a stressful experience. Flo helps Progressive make shopping for insurance look easy, accessible, and almost fun.
 
M&M's
These “spokescandies” have been representing M&M’s since the mid-'90s. Though each color has its own personality, we most often see Red and Yellow in M&M's commercials. Red is the sarcastic one, and Yellow is more “happy-go-lucky.”
 
Why does this work? It gives M&M's the opportunity for countless personality driven story lines. In May 2011, they launched a “Reunite 'M'” campaign after the spokescandies announced plans to pursue solo careers.
 
Fred the Baker
An oldie but a goodie, Fred the Baker was the brand mascot for Dunkin’ Donuts throughout the '80s and '90s. Fred is perhaps best known for his catchphrase “Time to make the donuts.”
 
Why does this work? Over time, Fred became a kind of “everyman” for working Americans. Dunkin’ Donuts customers saw themselves in Fred. When Dunkin’ Donuts decided to retire Fred as a character, customers asked that he be given an actual retirement party, as if he were a cherished co-worker.
 
As Dunkin Donuts learned, there are times when you need to say goodbye to a mascot that has served you well. In the case of Burger King, the company needed to redirect their business towards families and moms. The King, originally developed to target teenage boys, is far too creepy for their new target market. So out with the old positioning, and in with the new.
 
Do you have a favorite brand mascot? How do you think that character helps the brand?


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About the Author
Christine Turnier is not a ninja or a guru. She is a marketing and social media strategist. Find out more at bril-yunt.com or @cmturnier.
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