We are family
Tony the Tiger. Kool-Aid Man. Hamburglar. Mascots have played a significant part in major brands' storytelling through the decades. Now, after a small hiatus, new brands are introducing their own family of characters. Rasmus Vestergaard reports on five recent examples of brands telling stories through characters.
How do you build a brand universe that works well on the packaging, TV commercials and your Instagram feed? Start-ups, at the moment, are turning to brand characters to help with storytelling, build brand recognition and create emotional bonds with consumers. And the research supports this. According to Ipsos, characters improve brand linkage and recall when used in ads.
Sarah Di Domenico, co-founder and director of brand design agency Wedge, calls mascots an "incredible vehicle for storytelling" in an interview with Thingtesting. Craig Riseborough, designer at Design Bridge London, adds in another article, "Mascots have always been a proven selling point as they are unique, deliver a tone of voice visually and verbally, and are assets for long-term multi-channel storytelling."
And the multi-channel aspect is important here. For brands, the mascots or brand characters can provide the human connection, being a familiar face on websites, TikTok and billboards. Language learning app Duolingo experienced this on TikTok with its green owl mascot. Whereas colours or fonts are difficult and demanding to ‘own’, characters can be tailored even more to stand out and reflect the brand and its story. It can become an extension of a brand's identity beyond just a wordmark.
In the following, we bring you five examples of new brand families.
Swedish burger chain Tugg wants to promote inclusivity and diversity. So, Swedish design agency Kurppa Hosk used, among others things, a family of brand characters to express this. "We let the actual food speak for itself," Lois Nygren, senior motion designer at Kurppa Hosk, explains in an interview with Nordic Packaging Design. "The characters bring personality to the brand and create another dimension." So when you visit Tugg Burgers, or the Burgerian Nation, you'll meet Cheesela (cheese), Fritte (fries), Gurra (cucumber), Mustafa (mustard), Shalotte (red onion) and Ketty (tomato). "They are likeable characters with attitude, who are your friend but also mischievous and rebellious," as Nygren puts it.
Popular Youtuber Emma Chamberlain is an avid coffee lover. Quite naturally, she launched her own coffee brand Chamberlain Coffee. Danish branding agency Kontrapunkt helped build the brand universe, driven by a playful tone of voice and four initial characters that “represent characteristics we can all relate to”, as the agency puts it. Each character presents branches of founder Emma’s personality.
French start-up La Vie is on a mission to unite beet and beef lovers alike. With its award-winning plant-based meat alternatives, lardon and bacon, La Vie is seducing and uniting everyone. To tell the story visually, La Vie teamed up with the Scandinavian design agency Everland and Lithuanian artist and illustrator Egle Zvirblyte. The result is a universe with animal characters and representatives for each type of meat, among others, Mr Piggy and Hooman.
VPN software can be technical to communicate. So, the Estonian design agency Tabasco took a different approach when working with BlufVPN. Tabasco induced the brand identity with friendliness to make BlufVPN stand out from other VPN services. Four characters, Teezy, Holiy, D.Hard and Slick, help communicate routers, internet connection and servers in a more relatable and friendly way.
Cereal shouldn't only be for kids. OffLimits is out to prove exactly that but will also use its platform to destigmatise difficult conversations about mental health. Dash, Zombie, Flex and Spark are OffLimits' unstable cereal family of contrasting personalities, each representing a product and personality. Studio Number One created the different characters, while Pentagram designed the brand identity and packaging design.