The Marketing Makes the Mascot, Not the Other Way Around

What if a Kangaroo Sold Us Frosted Flakes or a Parrot Sold Us Insurance?

By Published on .

FADE IN: Smoke-filled Madison Avenue boardroom, circa 1951.

Ad Man No. 1: "OK, what do we have for options for a mascot for our client's new sugar-flake cereal?"

Ad Man No. 2: "We have Katy the Kangaroo, Elmo the Elephant, Newt the Gnu and Tony the Tiger."

Ad Man No. 1: "That's it? They suck. None of these will ever work. How 'bout something like 'Frosty the Frog'?"

Believe it or not, a conversation very similar to that probably occurred 50 years ago. And, believe it or not, those were the actual choices for a mascot for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. In fact, Katy the Kangaroo actually made it to store shelves along with Tony, but disappeared quickly as the big cat blew her away at the cash register.

Obviously the rest is advertising/pop-culture history.

But the question remains: Could Katy the Kangaroo -- or even Newt the Gnu -- have reached the same iconic, beloved, legendary status as Tony the Tiger had they been the recipient of a true advertising and marketing blitz?

Obviously we'll never know, but it does make you wonder. Who knows, maybe Katy the Kangaroo would have been on my pajamas with the footies instead of Tony the Tiger. But I digress.

How about these three iconic mascots?

You don't think it took some time and effort to get the American consumer's psyche to accept these otherwise inconsequential mascots?

Of course it did.

I think far too often, companies get too bogged down in creating the perfect mascot.

As someone who works in advertising, I know full well the power of the push. The power of a well-conceived, cohesive, all-encompassing advertising branding push or blitz.

You think the first time people heard and saw Tony the Tiger, they immediately welcomed him into their respective homes and kitchens?

Of course they didn't.

But over time -- a period of significant advertising time, and having been beset and besieged in a way by all the different media of the time (print, TV, radio) -- all featuring this large, talking feline, the American public not only welcomed him, they embraced him. They invited him into their homes.

That my friends, is branding -- at least one example of it.

A company selects a mascot. An advertising agency then begins the process of endearing and embedding this mascot -- this symbol, this brand -- into the psyche of consumers.

Pretty soon, said entity will become the proverbial household name.

And all the people in adland sing and dance in joyous merriment.

Well, something like that.

Steve Olenski is creative director-digital services at The Star Group. He is based in Philadelphia.
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