What is hijacking a brand mascot? Well, if you are familiar with twitter, you may already know, but for those of you who are not, let me let you in on this secret. Many of the most-loved brand mascots, from the Pillsbury Doughboy to Tony the Tiger, are on Twitter in some respects, but not necessarily supported by the company that created them. People with no affiliation to the brands have hijacked them for their own purposes. And it seems that companies don’t have much recourse as there is no law governing the protection of a company’s mascot on twitter.
Everyday people are either using popular mascots to assume the role they think they should play or to promote their own causes using a familiar face. The Advertising Age article entitled, “Twitter Identity Theft Strikes Brand Mascots”, does a good job of sighting how prominent the theft has become and touches on why brands have not retaliated, but should think about doing so.
A great example of the issue at hand cited in the Ad Age piece comes from General Mills. General Mills operates a twitter account for Green Giant and @GreenGiant has been tweeting things like “Do you have any fun weekend plans?” However, a Washington pot dispensary has been using the mascot to promote marijuana from @420jollygreen. They literally use the Jolly Green Giant’s name and image while their message is in no way aligned with the mascot’s image of a strong, healthy giant. Instead, this fictitious character whose strength comes from eating his vegetables is now promoting the health benefits of marijuana.
As a marketer, I think the brands themselves should fight harder to keep the integrity of their characters. They are so recognizable that the brand’s marketing usually speaks for itself just by having the image displayed prominently on any marketing piece – from ads to in-store POP. These are powerful mascots with a long-standing history that are being easily misrepresented thanks to this new frontier.
And if the marketers behind them don’t hurry up and do something, these beloved icons that have been around for decades will completely fall prey to cyber imposters.