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The Mascot has been around even longer than marketing and design.

Designing a mascot in both looks and character is no easy task. We see them everywhere from video games and food products to technology firms and insurance companies. They are designed to represent a brand through a living or anthropomorphic figure. They have to be universal and brand-friendly, but more importantly, inoffensive and likeable to a wide demographic.

That’s why it’s so easy to screw up a mascot design. When you try to design for everyone, you tend to design for no one. So, these 5 figures, are an amalgamation of how bad design and decision making creates unintentionally creepy, uncanny valley or just plain ‘WTH were they thinking?’ designs. Let’s begin.

London 2012 Olympic games mascots or #brands

The Olympics are a momentous occasion. Bringing together the best of the best in athletic competition for the past 120 years (at least for modern Olympics) and is only matched by the spectacle, architecture, and the design around it. This brings us to Wenlock and Mandeville. Designed by Creative Agency Iris, they have done beautiful work for companies like Samsung, Pizza Hut and Amazon, so when they revealed their design for the 2012 mascots, it was a little strange to see what we got.

Apparently, these two represent (And this is a big reach) the blobs of steel used to make the girders for the Olympic stadium. They also feature headlights mimicking the “hire light” on London taxis and their names are derived from specific towns.

Grant Hunter, the creative director, explained that the mascots were geared towards children and younger adults to get them involved with sports. I think the most disturbing part is the one-eyed “minion” look the mascots give. They also tried to incorporate multiple iconic designs of the 2012 Olympics, which made it very hard to understand the design language. It also doesn’t help that in the animations, they never blink. They just stare. And I know they’re supposed to be just blobs, but why do they have a tail? Why do they always look upset? Or is that supposed to be determination?

Ultimately, I think they’re too generic and tried to hit too many visual representations of the Olympics, that they just became what they were born out of… blobs. They don’t really fall under that creepy category, nor are they offensive. They’re just forgettable (and, probably, regrettable) designs.

Mr. Six? Oh god Mr. Six

Have you ever turned on the TV to see a random commercial and think to yourself, “What Just happened?” That’s the vibe most people got when they saw Mr. Six for the popular(?) 2004 to 2005 (and, briefly 2010) Six Flags ad campaigns. I’m not sure if it was the annoyingly catchy song by the Vengaboys, the hyper realistic movements or the uncanny valley situation evoked by something that is clearly not an old man in prosthetics trying to get children and their parents on a party bus to Six Flags. But apparently it did work for Six Flags enough to give him his own rides.

Played by Danny Teeson (wow), we don’t necessarily remember the first commercial, instead we’re used to the truncated version where an old guy gets out of a bus, dancing and collecting families to take to his cult Six Flags. So, with credit, the launch commercial does explain a lot.

Apparently, at the time, (this was during America’s major recession) Six Flags was in major debt, even filing for Chapter 11. To get them out of this, they enlisted the Advertising Agency Doner, to help them get more people through those gates. While the ad campaign was successful in terms of viewership, he didn’t actually help get more people to the park.

Personally, I think the mascot was too disconnected from the brand itself. I do see what Doner was doing, they wanted that shock value and it worked. But it didn’t sell Six Flags.

Duracell’s plastic fantastic family

The Puttermans will go down in history as the creepiest family of all time. Created for Duracell, this campaign lasted from 1994 to 1996 and was created by Ogilvy & Mather. An agency we spoke about in the past. The family was a direct reaction to the Energizer Bunny, (who was actually a good mascot). The brand’s mission statement for the Puttermans was to protect Duracell’s leadership in the marketplace and to curb the threat posed by their competitor… Energizer.

Herb, Flo, Zack and Trish are probably the most unsettling mascots on this list… well, almost. Mostly because of that uncanny valley, they don’t quite look like humans and they don’t quite move like humans. Their expressions are too extreme, not cartoon or action figure enough, but too shiny to be human skin. This was due to the heavy use of latex prosthetics and foam rubber, coated with urethane. The heads are 35% larger than actual humans and the hands were apparently twice the size of their actual hands.

Plus, that battery thing in the back. I mean…nightmares! This apparent $50 Million prime-time media blitz kind of paid off? Steven Johnson of XFX, designed the family so viewers would wonder if they were computer-generated, full-body robots or just stop-motion animation. I think the big issue with the Puttermans, was that they distracted the viewer from the product. You remember the creepy plastic face family, but you don’t really remember the brand. Instead, the end bumper… those specific sound notes, the tagline, “You can’t top the copper top.” And that wonderfully cheesy CG animation of the battery closing is what’s memorable.

Like a lot of the mascots on this post, they failed at hitting the specifically designed purpose they were intended to. Sell the product. Instead, it sold the mascot as a memory of something strange you saw as a child.

Spongmonkeys were a thing.

You know, sometimes you ask yourself, “Why don’t I see mascots for every brand?” and then you watch a Quiznos commercial and you get your answer.

I don’t know what they are, I don’t like them, the animation is horrible, and they have zero to do with the brand. Worst of all, they make me not want to get a sub because they’re so gross. Joel Veitch who runs a very user-friendly site called RatherGood, created the characters. Which for fun, mindless internet videos are great, but maybe not so much for a corporation trying to sell food products to a mass market. The actual Spongmonkeys come from a site called B3ta, which is a popular British oriented site dedicated to strange digital art. You can actually see their origins in this video, uploaded by RatherGood.

The ads ran from 2004 to, well 2004. Which is longer than what I expected. This is a classic example of a design which had a niche but strong following, trying to move to a new medium and failing. Personally, I think RatherGood’s media is binge-worthy, but not to sell subs. Like the other ads, the mascots failed to do what they were designed for. Sell the product.

Lemonhead is the thing of nightmares!

While this list could have gone much longer, I had to cut it off for SEO purposes, and Lemonhead, is a great way to end this nightmare of a mascot trip. As the story goes, in 2014, candy brand Lemonhead released a tweet with a headshot and only one ominous word, “hey.”

And I highly recommend you read through the replies because it’s a magical 30-minute time waster that will have you laughing your lemons off.

Resembling the current Mr. Peanut, the updated mascot was supposed to be an older, 20-something Lemonhead, who liked to (of course) take selfies and hang out on social media. The parent company, Ferrara Candy Co’s , Marketing Director, Dawn Sykora said, they were looking for a way to appeal to an older generation. And apparently this was the answer?

They have since changed direction but oddly enough, their twitter profile picture and header image have two different mascots or, at least, updated versions of the original logo. So, I’m not entirely sure what their new logo/mascot actually is. But I’m glad the strangely humanized version of a lemonhead is gone. Although Twitter, relentless as ever, makes Ferrara Cany Co. remember their past every chance they get.

And that has been our look at 5 interesting mascots created for brands that, maybe should have stayed concepts. While I don’t think the designs are necessarily bad, they didn’t do much to help the brand sell a product or reach its intended goal. To me, that’s the worst possible outcome for any design or ad campaign. While they did reach popularity and even cult status, they never helped the brand gain sales.

Let us know in the comment section below what you think. Obviously, we’re missing a lot more, and maybe we’ll do a part two to this. If you’re interested in further reading, check out our post on the strangely redesigned Thomas & Friends Hot Wheels Tank.

Mike

Since 2000, I have collaborated with clients on brand identity, content creation, high-level executive presentations and photography for corporate profiles, lifestyle, architectural and real estate. I’ve freelanced for multiple high-profile, technology and enthusiasts news blogs, with expertise in brochure, presentation and infographic material for high-level pharmaceutical executives in addition to RFP, advertisements, web and social design for multiple construction firms. I have advised on marketing tactics for nonprofit organizations and collaborated with alternative healthcare and lifestyle coaches on social content creation.

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