Creating Memorable Characters in Advertising
Character fluent devices support long-term brand building
From Churchill the bulldog to the Pillsbury Doughboy to Tony the Tiger, there are many classic characters that brands have leveraged over the years. However, over the last two decades, there has been a decline in the use of these distinctive assets in advertising.
According to Orlando Wood’s book Lemon, a character fluent device can be a human, animal or other personality created by a brand. For these fluent devices to help viewers quickly process that an ad is from a particular brand, they should be used across a campaign and integrated into other marketing efforts, like in-store promotions.
Mascots that Matter
Adland is filled with lovable characters who entertain audiences of all ages. Here are just a few of our favourites:
KFC’s Colonel Sanders was not only the founder of the fast-food chain but a welcome sight in the brand’s advertising for years, even after he sold the company in 1964. Following his death in 1980, the Colonel’s name and image would remain as symbols of the “Finger Lickin’ Good” chicken. From the sharp uniform to the white goatee and glasses, there are many unique features that make the Colonel a memorable mascot.
In the last two decades, the Colonel has been reimagined in animated form and through celebrity portrayals. Everyone from Norm McDonald to Jason Alexander to Jim Gaffigan to Rob Lowe to Reba McEntire have stepped into the Colonel’s white suit. There’s even Colonel snowman, proving that the beloved businessman is still the heart and soul of the brand.
Reptiles may be small, but they can deliver big results as demonstrated by Geico’s Gecko, or Martin as he was dubbed by The Martin Agency. Gecko is a golden example of a brand character that’s used consistently and drives results – ads where he appears have an average Star Rating of 3.27. He first appeared in 1999 as a way of communicating how to pronounce the company’s name. Today, Gecko is a well-known fluent device who quickly signals to viewers that an ad is for Geico.
Kevin the Carrot
Yes, even a vegetable can be a fluent device if it has agency and an interesting story to tell! Aldi’s Kevin the Carrot has delighted viewers since being introduced in 2016 to help Aldi retain its core customer base over Christmas. The award-winning campaign is so successful that the retailer’s ads perform well even when Kevin appears but isn’t the main star. He has continued to support brand building, helping the grocer win new customers from the ‘big four’ and is also the perfect example of how a fluent device can evolve. The carrot’s narrative has grown to include a wife and three children, as well as vegetable villains and friends.
Aleksandr Orlov Meerkat
Price comparison website Comparethemarket.com adopts a similar alliteration approach to Geico’s by bringing in a meerkat to make their name memorable. The CGI creature is named Aleksandr Orlov, a Russian aristocrat whose world includes a plethora of family, friends and employees. The meerkat campaign has seen Comparethemarket.com’s market share skyrocket, and according to entrepreneur David Soskin, the clever use of “meerkat” rather than “market” helps the company get around the high cost of sponsoring “market” on search engines.
Brazilian smoked chicken brand Sadia knows the value of a distinct asset. The brand created its helmet-wearing chicken or “Frango de Sadia” in 1971. In 1985, consumers voted in a contest to officially name him Lequetreque, which has evolved to Lek Trek today. Generations of Brazilian consumers have grown up knowing Lek Trek, who drives quick recognition and positive feeling. In ads where he appears, it’s possible for Sadia to achieve 100% Brand Fluency in our Test Your Ad platform.
The Red and Yellow candy mascots have been around for so long that an iconic 1996 Christmas spot featuring them and Santa was given an action-packed sequel in 2017. By making the story centred around the characters and leaning into the nostalgia of the first ad, which saw Santa fainting at the realisation that the M&Ms do in fact exist, the follow-up scored 5.9-Stars with our Test Your Ad platform.
Hershey’s have even expanded the M&Ms friend group to include Brown, Blue, Green, Orange and, as of 2022, Purple. In addition to appearing in commercials, the spokescandies are leveraged across the brand’s social media channels, website and physical stores, making them indispensable fluent devices.
Why Characters Work
Lemon further outlines the importance of fluent devices. System1 used the IPA Effectiveness Databank to determine whether long-term campaigns with a fluent device are more likely to generate profit gain than campaigns that don’t use these assets. We tagged more than 300 campaigns, dating back to 1992, noting if they had a fluent device. Then, Peter Field measured these campaigns against the IPA’s effectiveness measures. We found that campaigns with a fluent device are much more likely to achieve market share and profit gain than campaigns without.
This is because fluent devices speak to the right brain. Ads should aim to include characters, dialogue, a scene unfolding, humour, references to the past and other features that appeal to the broad-beam attention of the right brain. Fluent devices can provide all of these elements through their rich narratives and interactions. Their appearance can quickly signal the brand, making it important to include them often and in the early moments of an ad.
With all these advantages and given the fact that the use of character fluent devices is in decline, creating and promoting a brand mascot today can be an even easier way for companies to stand out from competitors. Everyone wants to achieve market share and profit gain. Why not enlist a character to help you?
Want to see how your fluent device performs? Our Test Your Ad platform will highlight the brand building potential of your creative and how well your character drives Fluency.