David Brent, Meet Clippy the Paperclip (How to create a mascot)

Mascots are all the rage these days. A large gang of fluffy characters is slowly taking over the internet, popping up on our screens with their goggling eyes and goofy grins.

Apart from a mild distaste for overly cutesy things, I applaud this trend. A mascot provides a fun and memorable way for a company to express its personality. Where a CEO once stood (awkwardly waving), an all-singing and dancing mascot now stands, sings and dances. Meanwhile, the marketing team breathes a sigh of relief, happy to be 100% in control of the new public face of the organisation. (God bless fictional characters for not going on drunken rampages in front of the paparazzi.)

Imagine yourself a TV sitcom writer

I’d argue that the process is not wildly different to how a TV sitcom writer creates a character. After all, a mascot must be loveable, and to be loveable it must be human – that is, with its own personality and set of motivations in life. Without these human qualities, a mascot will fail to endear its audience. The same goes for sitcom characters – while often extreme and flamboyant, characters must retain a human quality that people can identify with.

A little research

While conducting an online poll, Cheri and I asked people to state which brand mascot they most identified with in terms of personality traits, choosing from five options. MailChimp’s Freddie came out top – it seems that people can relate to his love of fun and playful sense of humour.

The creative process

Here are a few key steps that you might go through to design a mascot; in each case, I’ve given examples of three popular sitcom characters and brand mascots.

Step 1) Identify main characteristics

Before you can think about your mascot’s name and appearance, you need to decide what characteristics you want them to embody. These will essentially function to express your brand’s personality.

Like a great sitcom character, a great mascot can be described using just a few key words or phrases. This shows that they have a distinctive, bold personality that makes them memorable.

Sitcom characters:


1) David Brent from The (English) Office: self-delusioned, egocentric, well-meaning

  2) Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory:  pedantic, intelligent, simple-minded

  3) Liz Lemon from 30 Rock: highly strung, geeky, sardonic

Brand mascots:

        

  1) Freddie from MailChimp: energetic, fun, young

  2) Clippy from Microsoft: eager, clever, helpful

  3) Gnome from Travelocity: adventurous, curious,  excitable



Step 2) Give them a name and form

Once you have a specific set of traits, you can start ‘fleshing out’ your mascot in terms of  their name, appearance, species, etc. What kind of creature will best symbolise your brand? This might be a cute animal (Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger), a not-so-cute animal (Compare the Meerkat’s Aleksandr Orlov), a strange anthropomorphic being (Jack in the Box’s snowman), an alien (Reddit’s Snoo) and so on. When making your choice, it’s wise to consider the qualities already associated with a particular creature. For example, Moz’s Roger the robot aptly expresses the brand’s love of technology and gadgets.

When thinking up names for characters, sitcom writers not only consider their full name but potential nicknames too. Generally brand mascots have short names that are easy to remember (apart from Aleksandr Orlov, that pesky meerkat).

Step 3) Give them a motivation

So hopefully now your mascot has a name and face (the lucky thing). The next step is to decide on its prime motivation. Why does your mascot exist? What function does it serve?

Like sitcom characters, mascots need a reason for doing the things they do. Without this, they will just float around without purpose.

Sitcom characters:

1) David Brent wants to be popular. His mission is to become best friends with the people he works with.

2) Sheldon Cooper wants to control everything in order to provide optimum conditions for his scientific research and general ease of mind.

3) Liz Lemon wants to organise everything and achieve great things in order to prove her own self-worth.

Brand mascots:

1) Freddie wants to make emails fun.

2) Clippy wants to help people find the correct tools to format their documents.

3) Gnome wants to inspire and excite people with the prospect of new travelling adventures.

Step 4) Give them a challenge

If sitcom characters instantly got what they wanted in life, there would be no story. Moreover, it is only through facing struggle that they can garner empathy from the audience. The same idea applies with mascots – don’t make life too easy for them (nobody likes a spoilt mascot). In other words, don’t just put their face on your website homepage and nowhere else; involve them in the everyday communications of your business. For example, MailChimp’s Freddie helps people to send emails, congratulating them each time they schedule one.


Sitcom characters:

1) David Brent consistently commits social blunders and offends people.

2) Sheldon Cooper can’t control the world because...he can’t control the world.

3) Liz Lemon is surrounded by selfish and outlandish people. Plus sometimes she tries too hard.

Brand mascots:

1) Freddie understands that technical things can often be boring. People are easily distracted and so he must find fun and creative ways of talking about emails.

2) Clippy struggles to know what people want and to explain things quickly. He must get straight to the point in as few words as possible.

3) Gnome realises that people have limited time and energy to think about travelling. Therefore he must constantly surprise and delight his readers.

Step 5) Give them a voice

In order to be recognisable, your mascot should have its own way of speaking, ie. favourite expressions, mannerisms, vocabulary, etc. It’s important to be consistent here so you may want to put together a written guide. Even if there is only one person speaking as your mascot, it is helpful to pinpoint specific guidlines on paper in order to achieve better clarity.

Consider the ways in which your favourite sitcom characters talk. Do they use lots of slang? Big long words? Do they forget what they’re saying half-way through a sentence? Of course, the way in which the mascot speaks will be, in part, dictated by the places they appear. For instance, the GEICO Gecko has its own Twitter account and so must speak using short, articulate sentences.

Sitcom characters:

1) David Brent uses lots of half-sentences which peeter out or feature long pauses. Brent takes any excuse to boast, often referencing world leaders and philosophers in order to make himself sound intelligent.

We were talking earlier about Dostoyevsky weren’t we? Yeah, Theodore Michaelovich Dostoyevsky, born 1821, died 1881.”

“Professionalism is ....and that is what I want.”

2) Sheldon Cooper uses formal language in full and well-constructed sentences. Scientific terminology features heavily, accompanied by a complete lack of irony (though he does grapple with sarcasm).

I can’t be impossible - I exist! I believe what you meant to say is - ‘I give up, he’s improbable’.

“If outside is so good, why has mankind spent thousands of years trying to perfect inside?”

3) Liz Lemon likes to refer to herself in third person. She also revels in a little drama every now and again, drawing on classic comedic devices such as asking rhetorical questions and telling bizarre anecdotes.

Why are my arms so weak? It’s like I did that push-up last year for nothing!”

”I was going to take this class called Cooking for One, but the teacher killed himself.”

“Ugh, I hate January. It’s dark and freezing and everyone’s wearing bulky coats. You can do some serious subway flirting before you realize the guy is homeless.”

Brand mascots:

1) Freddie embraces a youthful American voice, using short punchy sentences and expressions of excitement.



2) Clippy is the polite sort. He uses full yet short sentences featuring simple language. He never assumes he knows what you want so makes sure to always ask a question.


3) Gnome is fairly bold in his use of language; he fills his sentences with colloquial sayings, words of advice and plenty of humour.


Conclusion:

For a brand mascot to be successful, it must be loved (or at least liked) by its audience. This means that it must have a well-thought out persona with specific character traits and a clear identity. While this may take a little time to create, the effort will go a long way. Like sitcom characters, great mascots will be fondly remembered by their audiences for years to come.

The research for this blog forms part of a new training guide on tone of voice, which will launch in the new year. To hear more from us, sign up for our monthly email.

Harriet Cummings

Harriet Cummings

Harriet Cummings does all sorts of nice things with copy and what-not. When feeling particularly energetic, she goes head first into big projects such as tone of voice and content strategy makeovers. She does need a cup of tea afterwards, mind. When...   read more

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