We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: your website is your reputation. “Click by click, tap by tap, consumers give their trust,” says Neustar. “When trust is shaken, people take their confidence (and their business) elsewhere.”

But it’s not just your website performance that matters (quick load times, data security, etc). It’s also the content on your website that makes a lasting impression. That includes customer case studies, videos, checklists, product overviews, brand cohesion - and yes, company mascots.

In today’s world, are mascots still a compelling marketing strategy? What type of impression do they make on consumers? If you’re going through a website redesign, are they worth the effort to save, or better to scrap? We decided to find out through our own Siteimprove survey, which you may have seen and participated in on our social channels over the last few weeks. Check out our results below.

Finding 1: opinions on mascots are sharply divided

57% think mascots are entertaining 52% also think mascots look childish57% think mascots are entertaining52% also think mascots look childish Right out of the gate, the results were at odds. 57% of respondents think mascots are entertaining, while 52% think they look “childish.”  Whether you love them or hate them, it’s safe to say that you probably have an opinion one way or another – because they can have an impact on your entire lifetime.

Multiple studies have been done on the impact of mascots or “character branding,” particularly on their relationship to our eating habits. A study in the

National Institute of Health found that “familiar media character branding is a more powerful influence on children's food preferences, choices and intake, especially for energy-dense and nutrient-poor foods (e.g. cookies, candy or chocolate) compared with fruits or vegetables.” A cartoon character can be the deciding factor between finishing your vegetables or demanding a cookie for dessert.

While the implications of these findings are complicated, their impact isn’t just limited to children. Interacting with food mascots as a child can cement brand loyalty far into adulthood. In a study on Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes and Tony the Tiger mascot,

The Journal of Consumer Research discovered that “exposure to advertising in childhood can lead to biased product evaluations that persist into adulthood.”

If adults liked a mascot or advertising character as a child, they are resistant to changing their opinions about those brands

for the rest of their lives.

So mascots can have a lasting impact on our buying decisions, but what are the implications of having them on your website?

Finding 2: the best place for a mascot may not be your website

76% would expect a mascot on the homepage 14% would not want to see a mascot on a website at all76% would expect a mascot on the homepage14% would not want to see a mascot on a website at all When it comes to placement of a mascot, 76% of our survey respondents said they would expect a mascot on the homepage of a website. However, 14% responded that they didn’t want to see a mascot on a website at all. If having a mascot front and center on your homepage doesn’t feel like a great fit for your brand, it may be wise to consider another platform: social media.

While the response to mascots on a website differed,

100% of respondents said that brand mascots should appear on social media. Why the big difference? Actually having an arm of your company or brand to interact with can offer your target audience an “authentic” connection beyond a faceless company website.

For example, the Aflac Duck takes something complex (insurance claims) to something that consumers can relate to.

The Aflac Duck has its own Twitter profile and almost triple the amount of followers than the official Aflac company account. The Keebler Elves tweet out cookie surprises to followers, thanking them for their patience as they “[Try] to figure out how to send the fresh-baked smell of cookies on the Twitter!” and navigate their new online home of autocorrect and faceswap.

An interactive mascot on social media has more reach and better opportunities for connection than a static image on your homepage. In fact, fictional characters might be better spokespeople for brands than celebrities on social media sites, as they are “popular, have no competing agendas, and they work for free.” Increased social media interaction! Brand awareness! Customer loyalty! Knowing this, it may feel like a mascot would make a great addition to your company. But don’t call in your design team just yet…

Finding 3: mascots can make or break your professional reputation

52% think a mascot make a company appear less professional 48% don’t think a mascot makes a company appear less professional52% think a mascot make a company appear less professional 48% don’t think a mascot makes a company appear less professional The most important questions here are: what is the role of a mascot in my industry, and would it hurt more than help my brand?

What impact would a mascot have on your brand’s image as a whole? Our respondents were (again) divided on the issue, with 52% saying that a mascot makes a company appear less professional, and 48% saying they do not.

In the late 1990s, Microsoft introduced its first (and last) “mascot” – Clippy. Clippy was a divisive character, ultimately immortalized as an internet meme.

For Microsoft, the intentions were good – create an accessible, friendly guide to the brand new world of word processing. But the problem was that Clippy wasn’t just a mascot. He was meant to be an agent, an assistant to make life easier, and he didn’t understand basic etiquette.

A Stanford study found that it broke the basic rules of human social interaction, that “it ignores social conventions of when to disturb someone, it does not learn from its mistakes…” After going through several iterations, Clippy was completely banished in 2007. The consumer had spoken.

However, even unpopular mascots (or even mascots that cause general unease) can have a positive impact on your online presence. Created in France in 2009 and debuted in the U.S. in 2014, McDonald’s “newest friend, Happy!” sparked terror and revulsion on social media, ultimately christened as “the meal that eats you.”

But instead of retracting the “creepy” mascot, McDonald’s double-downed. They continued to promote Happy, even responding with terrifying Happy tweets of their own. McDonald’s overall online/social media impressions skyrocketed 67% from May 17-18 to May 19-20, and 25% of the content on the internet as a whole over May 19-20 was related to Happy.

In conclusion

If our Siteimprove survey results are any indication, embracing a mascot can be a huge gamble. Yet common themes hold true:

  • mascots can cement lifelong brand relationships with consumers
  • mascots can serve as free brand ambassadors
  • mascots can result in priceless online traffic and awareness

The trick to a successful mascot lies in what goes unseen - the research into your audience and your brand values. Can your website actually benefit from a mascot? At Siteimprove, we weren’t sure, so we did the next best thing. We asked. Talk to your customers and prospects. Examine your analytics data to see if posts featuring your mascot performed better or worse than other content. Find out if your audience is composed of active social media users and if it’s more strategic for your mascot to “live” on your website, or on their own social media profile. Decide if you’re creating a one-time project or a lifelong relationship.

Because when it comes to being remembered as a tiger or a paperclip, that makes all the difference.


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