Does your brand need a mascot to be successful in social media?

Do you need a Flo? Progressive has had great success with its masco FloBrands are being increasingly successful in social media by using humorous mascots, according to the WSJ. We’ve seen plenty of evidence of that in the UK with Dulux recently reinstating its dog and how brands as diverse as Burger King’s “The King”, Compare the Market (Meerkat) and Go Compare with its opera-singing mascot, Gio Compario, have used them.

The report says that ad executives believe consumers on Facebook are more likely to bond with a character than the traditional company page on the social-media website pumping out company and product news.

The piece cites US brands such as eBay-owned ticket-resale website StubHub, which uses a 25-foot-high animatroni tree, insurance firm Progressive with a sales agent called Flo (played by comedienne Stephanie Courtney, Spam with Sir Can A-Lot,  Diageo with its live action Captain Morgan rum pirate not to mention the Old Spice guy and Geico’s popular talking gecko.

“Consumers are less likely to have a conversation with a logo or a PR guy on social media,” said Jeff Charney, chief marketing officer for auto insurer Progressive Corp. Since 2008, Progressive’s TV ads have centered on a perky sales clerk named Flo, who touts the insurer’s rates. She now has 3.5 million fans on Facebook, where she posts comments about new Progressive products.

Characters also offer a softer way to sell a product, which is important on social media where executives fear that blatant selling or promotion can turn people off.

“You can put fairly bald product benefits into the mouth of a mascot and it doesn’t come off as hard sell,” said Parker Channon, partner at Duncan/Channon, a San Francisco ad firm that crafted the StubHub pitch, from the WSJ.

According to the Daily Beast Pregressive’s Flo is one of the most successful recent mascots to have emerged and has become the most recognisable on TV since Geico gecko emerged:

“Such is the fascination with a character that has stormed into the American consciousness—against the odds of DVRs, iPads, and On Demand—in either the most annoying or endearing way possible. Reactions to Flo on YouTube range from “she’s hot” and “I want to f—- flo so bad!!!!” to “FLO PLZ GO AWAY” and “this girl is ugly and annoying and stupid and everything that is wrong with America.”

“But whether you love her or hate her, you can’t ignore her. In the two years since Flo debuted as the unflappably happy sales clerk who presides over the gleaming, white-bright store that sells insurance in handy, easy-to-transport boxes—giving the impression that shopping for insurance is as simple and unfraught as a trip to Ikea—she has become the most recognizable mascot on television, the successor to the Geico gecko, Juan Valdez, and the Pillsbury dough boy, according to The Daily Beast.

Interestingly the WSJ piece argues that that mascots had long fallen out of favour with advertising creatives, but that situation is now well and truly reversed, but as Neil Kliener wrote last week developing these characters and using them in social media often requires a different kind of agency approach.

The WSJ picks up on that theme and says that “maintaining a character often requires hiring staffers dedicated to keeping the mascot relevant”:

“For Captain Morgan, Diageo has a team of eight people at its New York ad firm, Anomaly, who devise the pirate’s daily chatter topics on Facebook. The agency hired a 26-year-old man, who has a background in comedy, to be the official voice of the Captain. He spouts off drink recipes; shares photos of the Captain at parties; and offers up weekend partying tips.”

Interestingly it also says that StubHub while it has a Facebook page for its tree character does not have a Twitter page as it does not have the budget: “We are still looking at Twitter but it’s a 24/7 medium that needs dedicated resources,” says Michael Lattig, StubHub’s head of brand.