Top 10 Most Successful Brand Mascots of All Time
Editor’s note: This is an update to an article originally published in Oct. 2013 by David Ciccarelli
In an age where more and more brands are adopting audio as part of their branding strategy, brand voice is becoming much more literal. One of the early examples of this is evident in brand mascots – many of which have been around for decades. There’s no doubt that the characters that brands built, and the voices they chose to give them, were strategic choices meant to connect with their target audience and serve as an extension of the brand.
There are many companies, big and small, that really get this. There have been so many companies that are incredibly successful at creating brand awareness through animated characters and casting the right voices that bring them to life.
When a careful pairing of voice and character comes together in perfect synergy, it creates a lasting legacy in the hearts and minds of consumers, building brand trust and loyalty.
Here is a round-up of the top 10 brand mascots that were successful in appealing to their target audiences.
10. Nestlé: Nesquik Bunny
Throughout the ‘70s and into the late ‘90s, homemade chocolate milk was synonymous with the name Nestlé, thanks to their mascot the Nesquik Bunny. The bunny made his television debut in 1973 and since has taken on a life of his own with swag that includes everything from bobble-head dolls, to lunch boxes, and T-shirts. During the most popular stint, the Nesquik Bunny was voiced by former Screen Actors Guild president Barry Gordon (1988 to 1995) and quickly became a prime example of developing a successful brand voice.
Qualities of the voice that make it appealing: The Nesquik bunny’s voice can be described as sounding ‘quirky.’ Why is quirky appealing to audiences? A quirky voice is safe and trustworthy and can also sound curious. It’s this curiosity that can draw customers in as they also become curious while listening and may be more enticed to purchase the product.
9. Kellogg’s Rice Krispies: Snap, Crackle and Pop
In 1928, the now-defunct advertising agency N.W. Ayer capitalized on the cereal’s most distinctive feature – the noise it made when doused with milk. The words “Snap! Crackle! Pop!” were selected to describe the cereal and have remained that way since. Originally just words on cereal boxes, a small gnome-like character with a baker’s hat and a spoon named Snap! accompanied the slogan in 1933. In a few short years, a trio was formed and Crackle! and Pop!, joined Snap! on the mascot team.
They first appeared as animated characters in television commercials in the 1960s. The voices of the original gnomes were performed by Daws Butler, Paul Winchell and Don Messick. The characters have also been voiced by Chris Evans, Keith Chegwin, Chad Doreck, Eddie Deezen, Thom Adcox-Hernandez and Dino Andrade. Since 2009, the three gnomes have been voiced by Andy Hirsch (Snap), Danny Cooksey (Crackle) and Mark Ballou (Pop).
Qualities of the voice that make it appealing: The characters are wholesome – their voices sound like the ‘boy-next-door’ and are perceived to be trustworthy.
8. Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes: Tony the Tiger
The advertising folks for Kellogg’s know what they’re doing! Making a second appearance on the list with Tony the Tiger, the advertising folks at Kellogg’s are brilliant at creating iconic characters for their products. Thurl Ravenscroft, the voice actor best known for Tony the Tiger’s, “They’re grrreat!” slogan provided the voiceover for Frosted Flakes television commercials for more than five decades. He passed away in 2005 at 90 years of age.
Qualities of the voice that make it appealing: Ravenscroft’s deep baritone brought a comforting almost father-like quality to the Tiger. The ‘deep‘ and ‘authoritative‘ vocal archetype has been studied and discovered to naturally convey a sense of trustworthiness.
7. Planters Peanuts: Mr. Peanut
Donning a top hat, cane, and monocle, Mr. Peanut made his first appearance in Planters ads all the way back to 1918, but it wasn’t until November 2010 when Planters would officially give Mr. Peanut a voice. Famous screen and stage actor Robert Downey Jr. was given the first honor. In 2011, Planters launched their brand of Peanut Butter and ‘Peanut Butter Doug’ was introduced as Mr. Peanut’s ‘stunt double.’ Peanut Butter Doug is voiced by Kevin Dillon.
Mr. Peanut as played by Robert Downey Jr.
In 2013, Planters announced that Mr. Peanut would be given a new voice. Now, comedian and Saturday Night Live alumnus Bill Hader provides the voice for the peanut icon.
Qualities of the voice that make it appealing: Both voices selected for Mr. Peanut (Downey and Hader) have a sophisticated touch to their voice – which is all part of the brand voice – making Planters branded peanuts seem upper class and desired.
6. Pillsbury: Pillsbury Doughboy/Poppin’ Fresh
The first Doughboy popped out of Pillsbury’s refrigerated rolls in the 1960s, which is how he acquired the name Poppin’ Fresh. Poppin’ Fresh has appeared in more than 600 commercials for more than 50 of its products. He was voiced by actor Paul Frees, famous as the voice of Boris Badenov in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. After Paul Frees’ death in 1986, Jeff Bergman took over. Today, the perfectly pitched giggles are done by JoBe Cerny.
Qualities of the voice that make it appealing: The Pillsbury Doughboy has a high-pitched voice. He is meant to appeal to younger audiences, as noted by the child actors that usually appear on screen with him. His voice is friendly and cheerful and cartoony.
5. AFLAC Insurance: Aflac Duck
In a move to garner greater public recognition in the insurance industry, AFLAC tasked New York-based advertising firm Kaplan Thaler Group with the job of making AFLAC a household name. As the story goes, prior to the assignment the firm had never heard of AFLAC. They were continually asking, “What’s the name of the client again?” Upon hearing “AFLAC! AFLAC! AFLAC!” one of the creatives said, “You sound just like a duck.” And the rest is history.
The duck was originally voiced by comedian Gilbert Gottfried, giving it a memorable, slightly annoying, yet funny and somehow lovable personality. After serving 11 years as the duck, Gottfried made the dismal mistake of posting a tasteless joke on Twitter that referenced the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami disaster, prompting his dismissal on March 14, 2011. Acting quickly, and in a brilliant PR move, AFLAC announced later that month that they were holding an open casting call for the new voice of the AFLAC Duck and invited anyone to submit their best take to QuackAflac.com.
On April 26, 2011, it was announced that 36-year-old Daniel McKeague, a television advertising sales manager from Hugo, Minnesota, would be the new voice of the duck. The first AFLAC commercial featuring the duck’s new voice aired on May 1, 2011 and McKeague continues to provide the voiceover to this day.
4. GEICO: Martin the GEICO Gecko
Where would GEICO be without their gecko? Having produced a large number of amusing commercials, the gold dust day gecko made GEICO a hit in popular culture. Using the lizard was an easy solution for the company since their name was often mispronounced as Gecko.
Playing on that, the original commercial featured actor Kelsey Grammer as the voice of the gecko, who climbs onto a podium and utters, “This is my final plea: I am a gecko, not to be confused with GEICO, which could save you hundreds on car insurance. So, STOP CALLING ME!” The wrong number ads later used Dave Kelly as the relaxed, British-Australian voice of the gecko. In subsequent commercials, the Cockney (British) accent is voiced by English comedian and actor, Jake Wood.
Qualities of the voice that make it appealing: The gecko is usually voiced with a hint of an accent – often British or Australian. Since Geico is an American company, using a different accent gives them a bit of foreign intrigue. Some British accents are seen as more polished and thus more authoritative.
3. Kool-Aid: Kool-Aid Man
Although the Kool-Aid brand dates all the way back to 1927, the brand’s iconic smiling pitcher didn’t make its appearance on packages until 1954. The walking, talking, wall-crashing 6-foot-tall pitcher made its first television debut in 1975 and was reportedly voiced by Grey Advertising composer, Richard Berg. In 1979 the character’s mouth was animated to synchronize to the voice actor’s dialogue.
By the 1980s, Kool-Aid Man attained pop culture icon status. In 1983, two Kool-Aid Man video games for the Atari 2600 and the Intellivision systems were released. Marvel Comics gave him a short-lived comic book series, The Adventures of Kool-Aid Man, which only ran three issues in 1984 and ’85 but continued to make issues four through seven under Archie Comics from 1988-’89.
In 1994, Kool-Aid retired the live-action character making him entirely computer-generated from that point on. In the late 2000s, singer and voice-over artist Frank Simms began voicing the character uttering Kool-Aid Man’s famous “Oh Yeah!” line as the character pours a drink for the parched children.
The animated version was much more successful, even though some thought the Kool Aid Man a bit creepy (he made it on TIME magazine’s list of top 10 creepy product mascots). However, with the animated version, the character is a bit softer despite his gravelly voice.
Qualities of the voice that make it appealing: The Kool-Aid man sounds much like a cartoon protagonist: confident, happy and animated, as well as physically strong (a little too strong!). Which is a great fit if you consider his strategic commercial placement alongside Saturday morning cartoons for kids, who are no doubt the target audience for this character.
2. Mars: M&M’s
Mars introduced their first spokescandy, Red, in 1954, 13 years after the smooth chocolates made their original debut. It wasn’t long before he was joined by Yellow, the peanut-filled mascot, when the company launched peanut M&M’s later that year. Over the last 50 years or so, M&M’s has only rolled out six more spokes-candies to represent new flavors, colors and themes, giving each one their own distinct personality.
The cynical Red was originally voiced by Jon Lovitz, and is now voiced by Billy West. Yellow, his gullible comedic partner was originally voiced by John Goodman, and is now voiced by J.K. Simmons.
Other mascots that have been introduced over the years are Blue, the “cool one,” who was voiced by Phil Hartman originally and is now voiced by Robb Pruitt and is the mascot for almond M&M’s. The sultry Green M&M is voiced by Cree Summer, and is the dark chocolate M&M’s. The neurotic Orange M&M, Crispy, is voiced by Eric Kirchberger for the pretzel M&M’s.
Green was the only female M&M’s mascot until January 30, 2012, when M&M’s unveiled a new businesslike spokescandy, Ms. Brown, voiced by Vanessa Williams, as the “Chief Chocolate Officer.” In a hit Super Bowl XLVI advertisement, Red mistakes her for lacking a shell coating because of her brown color.
Qualities of the voice that make it appealing: The Red and Yellow M&Ms are the most iconic of all the different colors. They are appealing because they form a dynamic duo. Yellow speaks in a way that makes him sound eternally confused and oblivious. Whereas the Red M&M is constantly correcting him and speaks as the know-it-all. Their dynamic is reminiscent of classic best friends, as depicted in popular shows and movies. This is a great fit for the brand given that M&Ms are often shared amongst friends at get-togethers, as well as enjoyed as a popular snack food during movies and extended tv-watching. There’s a relatability and sense of humor in their dynamic, creating the perfect combination of intrigue for the audience.
1. Walt Disney’s: Mickey Mouse
Who else could hold the #1 spot in this list but the world’s most beloved mouse? The official mascot for the Walt Disney Company, Mickey Mouse made his debut in a short film called Steamboat Willie in 1928, one of the first cartoons ever made with sound.
As a true marketing maverick, Walt Disney’s mascot became entrenched in everything that Walt Disney represented, appearing in countless cartoons, newspaper strips, variety shows, movies, merchandise, the Mickey Mouse fan club and, of course, the Walt Disney World theme park.
Brand Mascots: Why Are They Beneficial?
Mascots (or spokespeople/’spokescreatures’) are branding elements that can be used to help others better remember your company and the products you are trying to sell. Often based on animals or objects, mascots allow you to target your audience better. They also extend the longevity of your brand. Unlike spokespeople that age or could potentially do things to damage your brand, mascots are ageless brand promoters that help develop your brand and appeal to the consumer.
Do you have a favorite brand mascot, or a brand mascot of your own? Let us know in the comments below!