Corporations using people (and occasionally, creatures) to personify their brands is nothing new. It’s much easier for consumers to connect with a personality than a handful of claims or benefits, especially when you’re dealing with something most feel is a commodity – such as insurance. Characters with unique personas allow the public to identify with a brand and its offerings in a way no other tactic can, helping to establish relationships with consumers that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
Below you’ll find a handful of what I believe are the best current examples of brand personification.
Wendy’s: Morgan Smith Goodwin
Morgan Smith Goodwin
Although she appears nameless in Wendy’s recent marketing efforts, Morgan Smith Goodwin is just what Dave Thomas would’ve wanted. Smith Goodwin’s obvious resemblance to the burger chain’s classic logo, which represents a young Melinda-Lou Thomas, AKA “Wendy,” allows customers to connect with the girl that inspired the restaurant’s name and logo.
Allstate: Dennis Haysbert
Once known as Pedro Cerrano, the power-hitting Cuban refugee who played for the Cleveland Indians in the 1989 classic, Major League, Dennis Haysbert has gone on to become the face of insurance giant Allstate. All things considered, it’s the perfect fit: a deep, soothing voice that inspires instant confidence, a trustworthy appearance and demeanor. It’s no wonder Haysbert has been the face of Allstate’s marketing efforts since 2003.
Stephanie Courtney – “Flo”
Love her or loathe her, Stephanie Courtney – who plays “Flo” while representing Progressive Insurance – has worked wonders for Progressive’s brand image. Once known simply as "the insurance company that discloses their rates along with those of their competitors," Flo’s endless energy, giant smile and quick wit have helped to truly establish the Progressive brand.
StubHub: The Ticket Oak
The Ticket Oak
Switching gears a bit to a slightly lesser-known example, StubHub’s “Ticket Oak,” a talking tree used to promote the eBay-owned online ticket marketplace, is an odd yet refreshing example of a brand personified. While Ticket Oak is an animated character and not an actual human being, “his” light-hearted persona is fun, quirky, and effectively communicates StubHub’s value to consumers.
The Leinenkugel Family
What used to be a brewery with a name you couldn’t pronounce, Leinenkugel has established an appealing identity using the Leinenkugels themselves. The family’s warm, inviting personality and love for the outdoors has helped the SABMiller subsidiary become a recognizable force in today’s crowded beer market.
Quick tips for personifying your own brand
1. First, you must decide if personification makes sense for your brand. Not all brands need an easily identifiable character attached to them. Luxury brands are a prime example. Sure Toyota uses “Jan,” the all-knowing dealer receptionist, but its luxury divsion, Lexus, sticks to an approach that is often more successful for high-end brands: the distinctive narrator.
2. Next, decide what you most want the personification of your brand to achieve.
Do you want to seem more approachable or establish a higher level of trust? Or perhaps you want to take what is a boring category by definition (see Aflac supplemental insurance and the Aflac Duck) and make it into something consumers can identify with, helping them to better understand the value your company has to offer.
3. Finally, think about how you plan to use the character that will represent your brand.
Will your persona appear in settings completely foreign to your brand’s normal environment, much in the same way as the GEICO gecko, or will the person in front of the camera represent within your own walls, similar to “Papa” John Schnatter?
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