Are mascots necessary for successful brands?

It’s March madness. College mascots are popping up everywhere, on television, in sports bars, and even in the mail when your alma mater sent you that letter you never opened. Most of these mascots portray wild creatures, which fits well with the idea of a ferocious play between teams to determine who will rule over college basketball this season. For those in the know, there is no need to affix the name of the university underneath these mascot logos; in of themselves, they communicate what is necessary. UCLA isn’t just a university in March; it takes the form of a jaw-agape Bruin bear ready to tear apart its opponent.

After the Oscars and into March madness season, I started thinking about Facebook and the role of its brand. Facebook is the hotspot for all the March madness activities, primarily because of it’s interactive nature. You can get into heated debates about basketball with your friends, boo losing teams, express your school spirit, and even post pictures of you and your inebriated reveling at that dive bar across the street that gave you free shots for being an alum of his favorite school.

Traditional companies such as those in the blue-chip consumer packaged goods and retail industry are avid advocates of the importance of a logo or symbol that communicates the message of the brand. McDonald’s have Ronald McDonald as its mascot, it’s golden arches and its red-and-yellow theme– all of which remind us of happiness and childhood and fast food french fries. Facebook has the words Facebook on white font against a blue background. What does that remind us of?

It reminds us of nothing. Which, I think, is exactly the point of Facebook. It dissolves into the background, in order to let us do what we need to– talk, connect, play, poke each other.

Why doesn’t Facebook do mass promotions about the company and its offering on other media outlets? Aside from the fact that Hollywood did that job for them for free through The Social Network, Facebook grew through word of mouth, and continues to grow through world of mouth. It understood that people are wary about over-advertisement and interruption marketing, so they made the very nature of the company word of mouth; you have to be added by a friend or shared by another in order to participate. Even though almost everyone is on Facebook, it still has that feel of an underground, word-of- mouth entity.

McDonald’s have their breakfast sandwiches in different shapes and forms on perhaps every train in Chicago, and we never see the Facebook logo anywhere, yet we think more about Facebook and check it multiple times a day, even as we’re swamped with the McDonald’s posters plastered on the insides and outsides of the train cars. Facebook advertises, but not in the traditional sense, and certainly not to promote its brand. What Facebook promotes is the social nature of human beings, and our need to know what our friends are up to and what they’re doing with their time. Every face on the street, commercial on TV and even the quotidian, beautiful things on the street we chance upon, all remind us of Facebook. We don’t have a desire to log in to Facebook the company; we log in to be transported into another’s life and social circle, just as a train would take us from one destination, or experience, to another.

What works for Facebook is that it understands that in order to promote and grow itself, it has to stay in the background. It has to uphold its services as the most important aspect of the company, much more than its “brand” or logo. Whereas many advertisers feed us images of what we would ideally want to be like, Facebook gives us the opportunity to create the persona that we would ideally want to be like. It doesn’t deceive us with promises of reaching a certain state of happiness. It gives us control in order to reach the state of happiness we create for ourselves.


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