The hardest working employees in advertising — brand mascots — are increasingly populating your social media feeds in new and nostalgic ways alike. As brand mascots keep winning over audiences with their silly yet relatable and fun TikTok and Instagram content, other marketers are watching and wondering how they can build this kind of brand presence for their own mascots.
Gabe Gordon, co-founder and CEO at Reach Agency, hosted the “Brand Mascots Get Social” panel at The Creative Showcase stage at Advertising Week New York 2023. Gordon interviewed three speakers who manage three massively popular mascots and their social media presences. They are Bryan Waddell, brand marketing manager at Nestlé (Hot Pockets’ Herbie), Ben Mattes, senior vice president, Angry Birds brand strategy at Rovio (Red — Angry Birds), and Kristen Thompson, senior vice president and president, frozen & vegetables at B&G Foods (Green Giant).
Here’s a look at some of the insights Waddell, Mattes, and Thompson shared during their panel.
On modernizing the brand mascot and how this supports the brand today.
Thompson: The Green Giant’s always been this kind of mysterious presence. He doesn’t speak, he’s got a sidekick called Sprout. He’s been a partner to mom, or the head of the family, when making dinner and providing delicious vegetables. His role in the brand is the ambassador of the vegetables. He’s in charge of the Valley, he’s the one harvesting the peas, he’s driving dinner solutions. The way you see him show up in content is his presence. Whether it’s his full body or not, you’ll see his giant hand come in and help mom make dinner. Mom is still the hero, but he lends the support and confidence in the kitchen. Inserting him, and his body parts, in creative ways in content have helped break through in these channels. Having the Giant show up in a big way has been a way we insert him into everyday conversation.
Mattes: The Angry Birds games have been downloaded above 5 billion downloads. The brand, and its characters, benefit from high brand recognition. We believe mobile gaming doesn’t really have a mascot, but if it does it is Red. As we seek to reinforce that, we seek to grow his presence. The personality of Red needs to shine through in other opportunities, like movies and TikTok. How do we make Red a personality people want to identify with?
Waddell: We grounded Herbie in the idea of heroism because heroism has a lot of different meanings to different people. The more we can give up with him, the more we can receive. Some of the content you get… you see the engagement and comments around and the realization that this mascot is a Hot Pocket is untapping a lot for us.
On opportunities to take brand mascots further and redefine their role in marketing and communications.
Thompson: TikTok is the biggest opportunity for us to stay relevant with the right audience. There are so many purchasing decisions being made within the app. Food is a big opportunity, to partner with influencers and chefs. Our plan for TikTok, and building it out with Green Giant and Sprout, is give the brand a much bigger voice on TikTok.
Mattes: There’s the obvious stuff, like having Red do viral dances, we can do on TikTok. One thing we keep in mind is TikTok is algorithmically driven. This means you do need to understand the way the algorithm can converge with your brand goals. If your powerful brand message is buried at the :30 mark in a video and people are swiping up at :03, they’re never gonna see it. You can’t content quality your way out of that. You have to get the engagement to get the message through. Exploring this space — algorithm plus content and content quality and finding that overlap — is the eternal challenge.
What on this platform is your secret sauce? We do have Red’s personality, but we want to drive people to play Angry Birds games. Everything TikTok is doing around gaming — creators and product launches — all of this is very interesting and relevant to us.
Waddell: We’re fortunate to know who our target is — a dual household where we talk to the teenager as much as we talk to the mom. But you don’t talk to mom the same way you talk to the teens. We made the choice to not build a brand page, but lead with Herbie this year to figure out how to make it work more as an actor and fold him into the fray of our paid media strategies. The Herbie content has performed at par or better in a lot of campaigns.
When you live and breathe this DNA together, it’s not just marketing team talking about this together. It’s the sales organization, it’s our friends at Nesquik with their beloved Quicky mascot. Everyone’s interested in this.
On best practices for anyone bringing a mascot onto social.
Thompson: The Green Giant has been around for so long it’s less about building equity and more about keeping him relevant. Some of the things which worked best for us have been partnerships with big personalities, like the TikTok Corn Kid Tariq. Because there is so much you can do keep focus, and do not splinter too much.
Mattes: We made the decision a couple of years ago Red lives on the internet. He owns our Twitter and TikTok accounts and posts in his voice. This has been great for engagement. Fans love it and vie for Red’s attention. If possible, this can be worth exploring. Of course, tone of voice and guardrails are still super important. There are riches if you can do it properly.
Waddell: Turn your gatekeepers into advocates. This is the easiest thing to do. There was never not a point where we were waiting on someone else. Everyone understood from the beginning what we were trying to accomplish and now things pass through that we thought never would.