Marketing Briefing: Pop-Tarts and Cheez-Its’ buzz prove why mascots still matter for big brands

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The outcome of the recent Pop-Tarts and Cheez-It college football bowls – where Pop-Tarts introduced its new mascot as the first “edible” mascot and Cheez-It responded in kind with its mascot noting that it was “non-edible,” generating significant social buzz for both brands – made it clear that mascots can still contribute breakthrough moments for brands.

As marketers grapple with fewer mass media moments and continued social media fragmentation, among other challenges to get people to pay attention to their brands, the appeal of mascots may grow for brands that don’t already have them. The ability to create a character that will appear across social platforms and potentially help a brand become more recognizable on those platforms is one reason for the interest, according to agency execs, who noted that mascots are essentially a cheat code to brand recall.  

“The explosion of channels in which brands can show up is obviously pretty massive and has been for the last couple of years,” said Jesse Unger, head of strategy at Mother in Los Angeles. “When you create a character, it makes it a lot easier for the brand to then show up in a lot more nontraditional spaces.” 

That sea of channels, as well as the challenges marketers face when getting consumers to see their brands as authentic, has likely given way to more willingness among some marketers to experiment with how their brands should appear and what they can do with them. 

“There’s just a lot of freedom now and things you can do in that space where I would imagine that for companies that don’t have mascots, it’s easier than ever to create something and give it a personality,” said Kristen Thompson, svp and president of frozen and vegetables business unit at B&G Foods Inc., home of the Jolly Green Giant. “It’s probably more difficult for us.”

The iconic Jolly Green Giant will turn 100 next year, noted Thompson, who added that the company is figuring out how to make sure the mascot is still relevant and mulling how to bring him to TikTok. The Jolly Green Giant is just one example of how brands with long-standing mascots may have to take more care to figure out how to deploy them for today’s audiences. 

Aside from social fragmentation and brand recall, another reason marketers may be vying for mascots could be the success of Duolingo’s unhinged owl Duo as the mascot has helped the brand to be part of culture. “For about a year, every creative review involves an idea like, What’s our Duolingo?” said Ben James, chief innovation officer at Gale Agency. “Everyone’s trying to chase that owl.” 

“Mascots in a way are the perfect vessel for the age of social media,” said Nick Miaritis, chief client officer at VaynerMedia, who added that often brands can experiment with mascot content which can capture people’s attention because it feels similar to content that’s already on social feeds. “From an attention standpoint, [people are] either in or out so fast because it feels like [that content] belongs amidst the rest of what you’re seeing in your feeds.” 

All that said, brands shouldn’t just create a mascot or aim to make something weird just to be weird or just because they can, explained Wade Alger, group creative director, GSD&M, adding that the agency reintroduced Fruit of the Loom’s “Fruit People” on TikTok last year with the aim of giving more brand personality on the platform. 

“It’s the way you use them,” said Alger. “They have to be brand relevant. They can’t just be a character for a character’s sake.”

3 Questions with Kecia Caffie, president of Zales at Signet Jewelers

There are so many digital ad/marketing channels. Which ones is Zales leveraging to connect with shoppers? 

Today, we’re definitely much more social media than anything. We know that the influencers are becoming more and more important to us. One of the areas that there’s an opportunity for us to continue growing our presence is how we meet customers on TikTok. And then of course, we’ve not let go of email by any stretch of imagination, and using in-store client telling — that outreach from our team members and stores. I don’t know about you, but SMS is my favorite friend and the way I communicate with all humans. So that’s also a way that we’re reaching out to those customers who are loyal and that we want to continue to have more of that high-touch relationship with.

Linear ad spend is shrinking. Will Zales sun set that media spend? 

I’m certainly not prepared to say that today that we would. But like every organization that spends money on marketing, we want to make sure that we’re being as efficient as we possibly can, and it’s hard to say one way or the other that you would certainly go 100% with that [strategy]. I’m definitely not prepared to say that yet. 

As a legacy brand competing with DTC jewelry brands, how do you maintain a competitive edge? 

One of the things that we did [last] year in order to make sure that our messaging was tight and on point for the current consumer is going back and refreshing all of our consumer insight data. We all know the last three years was a lot for everybody. So what we didn’t want to do is just rely on information that we’ve gathered from our customers and our current consumers prior to the pandemic. It was the right thing to go back, talk to them again. — Kimeko McCoy

By the numbers

At this point, TikTok is a key element of influencer marketing thanks to TikTok creators and influencers. The question for 2024 seems to be if the short form video app can retain its creators for the long hall. (A look at TikTok’s past, present and future here.) In the meantime, a new report from TikTok and Creator IQ, a realtor marketing platform, reveals what characteristics separate the platform’s top-performing creator ads from the rest. See details from the report below:

  • Showing a person or creator in the first two seconds of an ad increases hooking power by 50% and improves ad recognition by 32%.
  • Including a creator voiceover drove a +63% uplift in purchase intent in a recent sample of Food & Beverage ads.
  • Text overlays are 1.4x more likely to hook a user than ads that don’t use text overlay. Meanwhile captions leading to a +31% increase in likeability and +95% in brand affinity. — Kimeko McCoy

Quote of the week

“This process has been dragging on for too long and it is finally time to start. The sampled approach allows everyone participating in the tests to evaluate the supported advertising use cases and the results in a statistically solid way. However, crucial use cases are missing and, as a result, it’s hard to imagine that Sandbox can be the future of a holistic approach towards programmatic advertising.”

— Jochen Schlosser, chief technology officer at ad tech vendor Adform, on the long-awaited end of the third-party cookie on Google’s Chrome browser.

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