Where are the purpose-driven brand mascots?

What’s a monkey got to do with tea? What’s a meerkat got to do with insurance? What’s a tiger got to do with cereal?

In truth, F*CK ALL.

Yet never underestimate the power of a playful brand mascot. They are perhaps marketing's best kept secret.

Research by Ipsos Mori shows that ads with brand characters perform 6X better on brand recall. 6X?! They’re not just good, they’re GRRRRREAT (Thanks Tony). For context, that’s double the attention of the next highest asset, celebrity ambassadors. Yet according to the System1’s study with the IPA, only 10% of television ad spend is currently invested on ads that feature characters.

So the opportunity is evident. But why are they so effective? I’ve no doubt appealing to childhood nostalgia plays a big part, but I think the real reason runs deeper. Queue Snap, Crackle & Pop psychology: humans are OK at remembering words and abstract symbols, but we’re incredible at remembering faces. It’s hardwired into us. Brand characters are shamelessly taking advantage of this human trait to flog us more of whatever it is they want to sell.

But can you recall a sustainable, or another purpose-driven, brand that has a playful, lovable character? Perhaps one or two at most.

Is the truth that sustainable brands are simply too serious? Mission-driven and hell-bent on fixing the world’s problems, perhaps we’ve lost sight of something: if we want to reach a wider audience, we might need to shake off the climate-anxiety-induced anguish in our comms, and lighten up a little?

Last year we rebranded Good Club as Dizzie. We wanted to position the refill experience as more joyful, so we worked with illustrator Anthony Orozco to create three lovable characters: Tubby, Pots and Pasta Boi. Anthropomorphising Dizzie’s iconic pots, and a tube of penne, the characters pop up across their website, adding character during key customer interactions, and you can even order stickers packs to bring some character to lifeless Kilner jars.

When I co-founded Nice and Serious back in 2008, we started out as a film and animation studio. Characters were our thing.

In 2010, working with Futerra, we created animated characters to launch Unilever’s sustainable living plan.

When Ben & Jerry’s wanted to launch their One Sweet World flavour and campaign, we created a world overrun by lemons, led by their Trumpian leader.

When the Guardian wanted to poke fun at climate deniers, we created The Lone Denier game (think Space Invaders meets an oil executive).

When Mars wanted to engage their supply chain about sustainability, we created Rex & Fluffy to tell the story.

If you want your sustainable challenger brand or purpose-driven campaign to have charisma and build memorability in the mind of your audience, seriously consider a character. They’re not just cute, they’re cool, on an upward curve and incredibly effective at creating distinctive, memorable and desirable brands.