Marketing News: What makes a successful brand character?
What makes a successful brand character?
Nintendo sent a ripple of excitement through the gaming community earlier this month when it revealed it was introducing a new Mario game to Apple’s iOS app store for the first time. The Super Mario Run news was significant as it’s the first time the lovable plumber has featured on a non-Nintendo platform since his launch more than three decades ago, and the announcement sent Nintendo’s stock price soaring on the financial markets.

So why should this matter to marketers? Well, it’s a reminder of how a brand character can have a big influence on a business’s success, even if they’ve run with it for many years.

So what inspiration can you draw from Super Mario and other successful brand characters if you are trying to develop one of your own?

Keep it simple
The fact that Mario has endured for more than 30 years after starting out on platforms that today seem basic and old-fashioned shows you don’t need anything too elaborate. Diarmid Harrison Murray, Creative Director of 3D at virtual FX studio MPC Advertising, flags up Flat Eric from the Levi’s ads as another great example of simplicity at work, as the puppet ‘still resonated and never failed to make us laugh.’ Similarly, he believes the band Gorillaz are ‘poster boys for how you can run with a simple animated character’ as they are ‘far more marketable’ than the actual musicians in the group.

“There’s often the temptation to do too much, but not every campaign needs a photorealistic creature or a fully rendered 3D world,” Mr Murray says. “Yes, Mario exists today in 3D and will make his mobile debut on the most powerful iPhone to date, but he was just as endearing in two dimensions.”

Brand characters must be versatile
The best brand characters aren’t those that are tied to a single platform or campaign, but those that can be brought out again and again and used in many different ways. On everything from TV or newspaper ads, to notepaper, pens and pencils to novelties such as teddy bears wearing Tshirts or photo mugs that allow them to convey your brand message distinctively and accurately to your target audience.

Humanise your brand characters
While you’ll want some sense of realism and accuracy from brand characters, don’t take this too far, particularly if your characters are animals. Imbuing them with a few identifiably human traits can ultimately be what makes them connect with the people you’re looking to attract. Diarmid Harrison Murray of MPC Advertising cites his experience with John Lewis’s 2014 Christmas advert as an example, saying: “With Monty the Penguin, our references came from penguins’ natural behaviour in the wild and we wanted to create something as true to real life as possible – but there were moments where we allowed a tiny movement of the eye to give a sense human emotions. Often nature knows best, but with the right cues, the audience will project the rest.”

Mario’s staying power and the recent surge in Nintendo’s stock is a clear sign that the brand character approach can work. It can help you stand out over and above a rival and really resonate with your customers.


Sources / Further Reading
Lessons from Mario: How to create successful brand characters CampaignLive
Why it matters that Nintendo put Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto on Apple’s stage VentureBeat