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America’s Most Memorable Mascots

There’s something curiously nostalgic, reassuring, and even heartwarming about brand mascots. Some of the most successful characters in American marketing have smiled at us from product labels for more than a century — like Mr. Peanut, who was introduced in 1916, the Sun-Maid girl in 1915, or the Quaker Oats man in 1877. Others are newer creations, like the Travelocity “Roaming Gnome” who debuted in 2004 and quickly became a social media star.

There’s a reason for product mascots’ staying power: They work. 

Mascots give brands warmth and personality. They become touchstones that we recognize, like, and trust. We may associate them with fond childhood memories, like Tony the Tiger saying “They’re gr-rr-reat!” during Saturday morning cartoons. Or they may cheerlead us through tiresome tasks; mopping and scrubbing seem less tedious with Mr. Clean by your side. Switching insurance companies isn’t nearly as daunting when a cute lizard with a British accent assures you it will only take 15 minutes.

To learn which mascots are most memorable, Crestline Custom Promotional Products recently surveyed 1,630 U.S. residents and showed them images of 82 mascots (characters that were stripped of any text) and asked them to identify the brand. There were no hints or multiple-choice options — just a blank line. The results yielded fascinating insights into marketing successes and failures, the characters that matter most to different generations, and mascots that are most often mistakenly linked with rival brands.

The insurance industry has changed significantly over the past couple of decades, with a greater focus on user experience, connectivity, and price transparency. The digital age has also triggered an all-out insurance advertising war, with the top 11 companies spending more than $6 billion each year to get their messages out. In 2018, Allstate budgeted $887 million, topping State Farm’s $802 million effort. But both companies were eclipsed by GEICO’s eye-popping $1.2 billion advertising spend, bankrolled by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. (Buffett apparently has said if he had $2 billion to spend on advertising, he would.)

One of the most compelling spokescharacters of recent years is Flo from Progressive Insurance. She’s goofy, she’s awkward, and she’s sincere. With her bouffant hairdo, red lipstick, and irrepressible spunk, Flo is on a first-name basis with 78.1% of Americans. She has 4.5 million Facebook fans and has even become a popular Halloween costume. Most people know she represents an insurance company, but they don’t necessarily know which one. Both Flo and Mr. Peanut outshine their parent companies in terms of name recognition by 7 to 8 percentage points.

The current crop of insurance spokescharacters is fairly young, compared with other types of mascots. Allstate’s Mayhem character, played by actor Dean Winters, debuted in 2010. Flo from Progressive Insurance, played by comedienne Stephanie Courtney, appeared in 2008. The Aflac duck and GEICO gecko, both introduced in 2000, are downright long in the tooth by comparison.

Interestingly, while cereal mascots universally convey enthusiasm to connect with consumers, insurance mascots evoke a variety of emotions and embody a range of character traits. Dennis Haysbert, the deep-voiced actor who radiates gravitas, portrays an unnamed character for Allstate who led the categories for trustworthiness and persuasiveness, came in second for likeability, and also ranked as least annoying.

Other characters depict different qualities to reassure people who might need insurance. Progressive’s Flo (who’s ranked third-most likeable, trustworthy, and persuasive), seems honest, conscientious, and engaging, while State Farm’s Jake is a relatable “everyman.” Farmers’ Professor Burke, played by Oscar-winning actor J.K. Simmons, conveys experience and wisdom — he’s seen it all, and he’s got your back. Only Allstate’s comic anti-hero Mayhem evokes fear of all the unknown ways you could be in for trouble.

Some of the catchphrases popularized by these characters include:

  • Are you in good hands?
  • We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.
  • Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.
  • 15 minutes could save you 15% or more on car insurance.
  • So easy, a caveman could do it.

Human insurance mascots seem to fare better than most animated ones, as The General from General Insurance and Erin from Esurance both scored low in all the categories except most annoying, in which The General placed second, behind the Aflac duck. The main exception to this rule is the GEICO gecko, who ranked as the most likeable insurance mascot, and the second-most trustworthy and persuasive.

For more detailed information on this survey, click on this link to the Crestline Custom Promotional Products page:

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