Leveraging the Magic of Memorable Characters in Advertising

In advertising, captivating characters have always been the linchpin of successful brand narratives. From the charm of Leo Burnett’s Jolly Green Giant to the contemporary wit of Geico’s Gecko, these characters, known as fluent devices, play a pivotal role in shaping brand identity and fostering long-lasting connections with consumers. 

Defined by our very own Orlando Wood in his work “Lemon,” fluent devices encompass a spectrum of personas, ranging from human to animal to fantastical, all meticulously crafted by brands to encapsulate their essence. These characters transcend mere mascots; they are integral components of a brand’s storytelling arsenal, amplifying recognition and emotional resonance across diverse marketing platforms and audiences. 

Take, for example, Tony the Tiger, the iconic face of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. From gracing the side of cereal boxes to starring in TV commercials, Tony embodies more than just a breakfast cereal; he embodies a lifestyle choice, advocating for health and active lifestyles among children via the Mission Tiger campaign. 

Characters like Colonel Sanders of KFC occupy a revered place in the hearts of consumers, evolving beyond mere advertising to become cultural icons. Even after the passing of the real Colonel Sanders in 1980, his legacy lives on through animated renditions and celebrity portrayals, reaffirming his status as the cherished face of finger-lickin’ goodness.

Similarly, the Geico Gecko, introduced in 1999, has become synonymous with the insurance company, signaling to audiences that they are in for a Geico experience. With each appearance across various media channels, the Gecko reinforces brand recognition and delivers tangible results, underscoring the enduring impact of a well-crafted and recurring fluent device. Developed by The Martin Agency, the gecko is increasingly essential in a category that’s filled with many competitors, each with their own recurring characters.

Aldi UK’s Kevin the Carrot has emerged as an unexpected yet beloved brand ambassador, captivating audiences with his evolving narrative about his family and an endearing personality. His journey from seasonal mascot to fully-fledged character underscores the versatility of fluent devices in cultivating brand loyalty and engagement. In System1’s testing, the Christmas ads centered around Kevin have increased in effectiveness year after year and now regularly score 5-Stars, including achieving the maximum 5.9-Stars two years in a row.

Of course, no discussion of the power of brand characters would be complete without a nod to the M&M’s “spokescandies,” who are pop culture icons in their own right. Through their colorful personalities and timeless antics, these confections have transcended advertising to become beloved cultural fixtures, bolstering Hershey’s brand equity and demonstrating the profound influence of character-driven storytelling.

When you take a closer look at M&M’s Super Bowl ads from 2023, you can see the impact that the fluent devices play in driving positive emotion that supports long-term growth, as well as brand recognition. The ad featuring celebrity Maya Rudolph in place of the spokescandies scored 1-Star, in part due to the strong feelings of disgust related to the announcement the candies are now clam-flavored. The ad also scored 92 out of 100 on brand recognition (Fluency).

The second ad Hershey’s aired that evening brought the spokescandies back and resulted in a 4.8-Star Rating and an increase in Fluency to 98. The ad also outperformed the celebrity-backed ad on short-term sales potential, giving the spokescandies an advantage across all three System1 metrics. It’s another testament to the short- and long-term rewards that consistently used characters offer to brands.

According to research cited in “Lemon,” fluent devices appeal to the right brain, eliciting emotions and sparking imagination in ways that resonate deeply with viewers. By weaving elements like dialogue, humor, and intricate narratives into their stories, brands bypass the analytical left brain, forging authentic connections that endure over time.

So, if you have a brand character, be sure that you’re using them regularly and strategically across the media mix. Fluent devices deserve to be in the spotlight. And if you don’t yet have one, consider the many benefits they provide, like eliciting positive emotions that support brand building and driving quick brand recognition. While some categories have figured out fluent devices, like insurance, cereal and snacks, there are many others that have an opportunity to bring likeable characters to the forefront.

Want to uncover how your brand character performs on Fame, Feeling and Fluency? System1’s Test Your Distinctive Asset+ can pinpoint the emotions evoked by your brand assets, like fluent devices, sonic devices, logos and more.


Additionally, our Test Your Innovation platform can help you gauge the commercial success of brand characters in addition to new products, packaging, taglines and more.