What’s With Those Creepy Brand Mascots?

In the world of marketing, May 2014 was the month of creepy brand mascots.

In the name of all that is great and glorious, what on earth were they thinking? That was the response many individuals had to the newest, creepiest mascots on the branding front.

So what’s out there that’s giving people the shivers? A young man with a lemon for a head and a toothy, overly happy Happy Meal box:

creepy mascots

Left: Lemonhead’s new mascot is supposed to appeal to an “older” audience Right: McDonald’s latest mascot, McHappy, has been instead dubbed “McScary”.

Sorry. It had to be done. You can hold us responsible for the nightmares tonight.

This week, Ferrara Candy Company introduced an updated brand mascot for Lemonhead candy. Just in case you can’t recall what previous Lemonhead packaging looked like, here is an example:


One of the original Lemonhead designs featured an “older-looking” face with a 1950s bow-tie.



Updated packaging left off the bow-tie and made the face look younger.

Dawn Sykora, director of marketing for Ferrara, told the Chicago Tribune that the update was greatly needed as research told them their previous packaging was “dated”. Sykora said the company wanted to appeal to an older demographic, with a 22-year-old Lemonhead man as the brand’s icon. And how did Ferrara decide to do this? With a real guy wearing a lemon head walking around Chicago and posting selfies on Facebook and Twitter. A few of his sightings have been documented here.

Then, in the same week, McDonalds (also a Chicago-based corporation) released their latest mascot designed to appeal to the younger audience. “McHappy”, as the terrifying Happy Meal is called, was designed to encourage children to make healthier food choices. McDonald’s spokeswoman Lisa McComb says the character has already been released in Latin America and Europe and has been well received. So far. On social media, it’s had exactly the opposite reaction. User-made photos like the ones below have started to pop up online, enunciating the creep-factor of the mascot:



McHappy and Godzilla make a terrifying team…




That isn’t creepy at all….

So, why are companies using creepy mascots? While it may usher in a flood of negative comments at the start, the concept is actually genius. Think about it this way: if McDonald’s created a sub-par mascot, it would just blend in to every other advertising campaign out there, going unnoticed in most cases. But if the Golden Arches released something a little more memorable (even if its memorable in a discomforting way) it creates buzz, which potentially drives new and returning customers through the door.

Whether you realize it or not, many marketers use human psychology to their advantage. One of the biggest factors that play into campaigns is how people react to what you’re putting in front of them. Psychologists say people have strong reactions to things that freak them out (obviously) and also to humor (which is the main goal of Lemonhead). However, those emotions are more likely to inspire social media users to share those particular photos, videos, articles, or links with others on a social network.

In essence, these companies are working hard to create viral marketing content, which is undoubtedly working since the mascots have the internet abuzz with chatter.

Either that, or they’re trying really hard to freak us out.


What are your thoughts on these new mascots? Are they creepy or cool? Let us know in the comments.



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