Back in the 1950’s Leo Burnett was the best known inventor of brand characters. Amongst others he is famous for Tony the Tiger, the Green Giant and Marlboro Man. Whilst as advertising vehicles, characters have become less fashionable, they are set to make a comeback for a number of reasons. Byron Sharpe argues that symbolism and recognisable ‘visual assets’ are of great value in ensuring that brands remain front of mind. The enormous success of the Meerkats, who come with an archetypal story, that bonds with the brand purpose, has put the use of characters back at the centre of great brands. There’s also a tranche of new symbols like EDF energies cutesy Zingy and the more symbolic, less advertising driven, Innocent drinks identity and the omnipresent Red Bull logo.
At the heart of many of these great symbols are potent metaphors. Leo Burnett kept a drawer full of analogies and understood the role of these kinds of parallels and how they can fix ideas in peoples minds. Everyone has heard of the memory expert’s technique of attaching visuals to something abstract and hard to recall such as a string of numbers. These metaphors and associations can make brands more memorable, more emotionally engaging and above all distinctive in ways that competition find hard to mimic. In some cases it becomes the most potent aspect of the brand. I believe it’s said that people buy insurance now, when they already have policies, for the Meerkat toys alone and in the case of Green Giant the product is identical to own brand and the giant is the only difference.
Identifying the emotional territory that the brand wants to own and finding the right metaphor to fit, applies to exiting symbols as well as the invention of new ones. Perhaps one of the greats is being given a new lease of life with the current Lloyds bank campaign. Loyalty, support and strength over a period of time as symbolised by the famous black horse, all tap into the underling feelings that relate to banking, both the benefits and the insecurities.