You may have caught the news last week that, after 31 years, MetLife has dropped Snoopy as their corporate mascot. It’s part of a larger rebranding effort to try to depict the company as more forward-looking. It got me wondering about mascots and their use in developing fandoms.
Take a moment to think about some businesses you might like that do not use mascots. Maybe The Wall Street Journal or Barnes & Noble or Bank of America. You might like them and appreciate what they do, but I’d be willing to bet not to the same extent that you like your favorite band or author or fictional hero; you probably have a greater passion for those. Part of the reason for that is that they have a visual representation of something for you to connect with. There’s a person or people there that you can identify with at some level, and establish some sort of connection with.
Corporations, though, are more abstract. They’re an entity that really only exists in people’s minds. They have a corporate headquarters and own some equipment and employ people and produce stuff, but there’s nothing you can point to and say, “That, right there, is IBM” or “This is Honda.” You can say, “This is a thing that Honda produced,” but it’s not Honda itself.
While not impossible, it’s more difficult to find passion in something abstract like that. So companies hire or develop mascots as a means to humanize themselves. To create a relatable figure that people can more readily connect with. That might be Target’s original Bullseye (nee Spot) the dog character, or Capital One’s hiring of actor Samuel L. Jackson. In both cases, they’re making an attempt to put a face to their company in the hopes that their audience connects better, and more passionately, with them.
In their announcement, MetLife alluded to this in saying goodbye to Snoopy. “We brought in Snoopy over 30 years ago to make our company more friendly and approachable during a time when insurance companies were seen as cold and distant.” Snoopy was a well-known and lovable character; MetLife used him as their face to put customers more at ease and humanize the terribly abstract concept of insurance.
As I said, it’s not impossible for a mascot-less company to establish a passionate fanbase. Apple is a prime example. But having a mascot—even as simple a one as Walmart’s Smiley—does make it easier.
Not every company necessarily wants that, of course. Some find the use of mascots as frivolous, so not using them may make more sense depending on the business they’re in. But for the places that do use them, the reason is, at least in part, to make it easier for you to see them as something relatable that you can become passionate about.