Adwatch - The importance of associating a character with your brand

April 7, 2015 SSP Limited

As consumers we are happy to deal with the information presented to us and process it in the best way we can. This is where the power of a business’s brand can come into play - they drive us to purchase, inspire loyalty, create excitement and convey complicated and subtle messages. 

Technically, branding is about a number of touch points over a stretch of time. But with each and every interaction, there are a number of chances to fortify or, if mishandled, weaken a business’s brand. With high levels of competition in all markets, the impact of the recession and consumers being very purchase precious, differentiation is becoming essential and needs to be a fundamental embodiment of branding. It seems that, in recent years, associating a character with a brand is paving the way to success. 

More recently, the insurance industry has seen an eruption of brand personalities or characters such as Compare the Market’s meerkat character Aleksandr Orlov, Go Compare’s warbling tenor Gio Compario, and Churchill’s jet-setting bulldog. They are all responsible for the most memorable campaigns over the last 18 – 24 months and now have fan bases that rival those of celebrities. Their success is setting the bar for other brands looking to build a character narrative to help develop a new connection with consumers. 

It’s time to stop being faceless and start showing character. 

Character creation customarily forms part of a business’s branding strategy but, to be successful, it has to be shrewdly planned out. A brand strategy is a business’s high-level connector, driver and enabler that combines the core elements of a business and shapes them into a communicating mechanism for success. The rewarding use of characters to differentiate and personify brands first became popular in the 1950s, when companies such as Kellogg’s introduced figures such as Tony the Tiger. 

The recession has forced organisations to find more cost-effective ways to boost brand awareness, but nobody realised until early 2009 that a talking meerkat could help in more ways than one. The character, campaign and strategy as a whole have gone down in history as one of the most memorable characters and campaigns of the decade. Because of this, brand characters are now proving to be a reliable, and often more favourable, alternative to celebrities. Considering the ongoing 

wave of celebrity scandals and their potential negative effect on a brand, marketers are now considering their brand ambassador choices more carefully.

The flexibility of developing a brand character offers a great alternative to celebrities. They enable a business’s campaigns to go in any direction and unlike celebrities; brand characters don’t have contracts, large fees and can’t damage a brand with personal-life transgressions. Celebrities come in and out of fashion and have another life outside the brand whereas the benefits of associating a character with a brand seem endless. They have gone beyond building competitive advantage and significant market awareness to creating pure brand salience for insurance companies. The insurance market has always been considered a lacklustre industry with grudge purchases, but the recent waves of popular brand characters have created genuinely engaging and enjoyable campaigns. They offer consumers a quick and easy shortcut to the brands and become a friendly-faced go-between that lightens the touch of communication with the real experts.

Traditionally, brand characters were used in television adverts, but the digital revolution has given organisations a new way of engaging with consumers and market testing new brand characters. Now creating a Facebook page and Twitter feed for a character is an easy way to extend the character’s personality and spread the word. It enables them to have personalities in their own right, interact 24 hours a day in real time and help to develop closer relationships with consumers. The popularity of television dramas and soap stories means that companies can have their brand characters play right into that. A business can create a character that represents exactly what consumers are looking for, which can then be moulded into real-life situations, enabling brands to overcome consumer apathy and even adversity towards them. Characters help engage the audience and tie brands to certain themes that connect with consumers on a deeper personal level, making them feel nostalgic whilst linking to the brand and providing a call to action. Compare the Market’s meerkat character Aleksandr Orlov’s popularity demonstrates just how much introducing a brand character can both engage and heighten a brand’s reach.

What is it all about?

A brand character has to represent core aspects of the brand: a brand’s visual identity, relationship with the audience, personality and even a brand’s history. It helps consumers remember, identify, and differentiate one product from another. Research shows that, in many cases, consumers would rather interact with a cute or cuddly character than a faceless corporate executive. In this increasingly cluttered brand world, it’s really useful to have a face associated with a company/brand that consumers are fond of and really engage with. Within two months of the character appearing on TV, Go Compare recorded a 50% increase in brand awareness.

Characters are a good shortcut for developing this awareness and empathy, but brands have to think about why they are doing it. Where does it fit into the context of the brandscape in the long term? It means that brands have to differentiate further to reach that extra level of engagement against competitors because, once this level of brand awareness is achieved, it is difficult to maintain that level of success and longevity. Where brand characters have been created to build awareness, it is a challenge to extend their existence. and as technology continues to develop, our attention span as consumers will only continue to deteriorate.

Sources - The Drum, Forbes, Adcracker, Raymondeg, Marketing week,, Convince and convert, Adage, Business Week, Advertising Age.

About the Author

SSP Limited

As the leading global supplier of technology systems and software for the insurance industry, our role is to help insurers and brokers operate more efficient businesses. So whether you’re a global insurer or an MGA, a high street broker or a start-up with a smart new idea, we can be trusted to support you on your journey, whatever the destination.

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